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laughing eyes

by John Arlon Hawke

To find out more about Free Will Baptist Board of Retirement, call toll-free (877) 767-7738.


"LAUGHING EYES" OPENED THE BACK DOOR of her rural Tennessee home smelling of fresh-baked banana bread. She looked more like the vibrant centerpiece of her world than a 72-year-old minister’s widow. Three cakes with thick white icing, evidence of her skill as a professional baker, waited on the dining room table. 

Norma (Laughing Eyes) Pettus’ home nestles between two picket fences besieged by azaleas. She drives 18 miles to work three days a week, then rushes home to prepare for the weekend.

On Sundays, after services at Shady Grove FWB Church, it’s not unusual for 18 relatives and friends to crowd into her kitchen sniffing, tasting, and getting in on the good humor. “Those who visit always remember the laughter most,” Norma says.

Rose Bud Romance

Her husband of 49 years, Reverend Marion Pettus, died six years ago. They served 42 years in full-time Christian service—28 years pastoring and 14 years directing Cumberland Camp in Middle Tennessee.

At first, Norma worked without pay at the camp. “We both wore three hats while he was camp director,” she says. “My three titles were maid, cook, and bookkeeper.  The Camp Board called me the ‘assistant director’.”

Laughing Eyes met Marion in Rose Bud, Arkansas, after being introduced by a mutual friend. They married on May 5, 1951, and settled down to farm.

Higher Calling

However, the would-be farmer/gospel singer was struggling with a higher calling. “I knew something was bothering him,” she says, “but I never thought it was preaching.”

They sold farm equipment in 1956 to help pay expenses when Marion enrolled at Free Will Baptist Bible College. “He spent two years in the Army,” Norma says. “The G.I. Bill and the farm equipment paid his way through college. He also worked selling Bibles and pastoring small churches.”

Fall-Back Plan

While Marion pastored rural or mission churches, Norma worked in grocery stores, did baby-sitting and baked cakes to help financially.

After he died at age 68, Norma had a fall-back plan, thanks to the Board of Retirement. Marion invested in a retirement plan in 1987; Norma started her own retirement plan in 1994. Six months after Marion’s death, she chose lifetime annuities from both accounts.

“Wonderful!” she says of monthly revenue from the two annuities. “Marion’s Social Security benefits help, but not enough. This annuity income is mine as long as I live. I’ve warned the Board of Retirement that women in my family live a long time.”

Laughing eyes grows silent. “I wish every young minister’s wife would urge their churches to contribute to the pastor’s retirement account. Just do something, even if it’s small. Small counts big when you need it.”

Tasty Exit

Norma claims to be quite ordinary. “Other women collect dolls or coins. I just collect dust. To meet me is to know me. I’m living right where I want to live, doing what I want to do. My only regret is missing my 50th wedding anniversary by 10 months.”

As the interview closed, and I headed for the door, Laughing Eyes handed me a tin-foil wrapped package that smelled good enough to eat. Turned out it was—a loaf of Norma’s fresh-baked banana bread.

John Arlon Hawke is a freelance writer and journalist with a wide range of publishing experience. He currently makes his home just south of Nashville, TN. To find out more about Free Will Baptist Board of Retirement, call toll-free (877) 767-7738.







©2005 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists