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Parting Tree

beyond the parting tree

by Jack Williams


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The Parting Tree stood just down the sidewalk from the student lounge at Free Will Baptist Bible College, a place where courting boys turned left and girls turned right—that’s where it all started in 1955. Margaret doesn’t remember that first accidental meeting with the quiet ministerial student from California, but Ralph does. He is quick to tell about the pretty Missouri lass standing with her Arkansas friend on the girls’ side of the Parting Tree as he and a West Coast buddy headed back to the men’s dormitory after the fall reception.

That was the last unplanned meeting between the two. The rest were intentional. He proposed (without a ring) at her home in Springfield, Missouri, one Christmas. But it was three years before Margaret Evans and Ralph Hampton married.

There was not enough money to get married and pay tuition. After all, he was the son of a bi-vocational Free Will Baptist preacher; she was the daughter of a Free Will Baptist deacon who was gone from home weeks at a time working his railroad job with the Frisco Line. So they pledged their love to one another, postponed marriage, went back to FWBBC, and strolled down the sidewalk toward the Parting Tree.


Missouri/California Merger

Ralph, oldest of the four Hampton brothers, spent summers working in California canneries to pay for college tuition. He missed Margaret, but it cost too much to talk by phone, so he dreamed about her and waited for the fall semester to see her again.

“Ralph was always so polite and neat,” Margaret said. “That’s one of the things I liked about him. Unlike most boys, his hands were always clean. My mother was a practical nurse. When she met him, she thought he had doctor’s hands.”

The couple married in 1958 after Ralph completed his B.A. degree and was hired to teach at FWBBC. Margaret finished her B.A. degree in 1959.

Asked where they went on their honeymoon, Margaret responded, “We came to Nashville. We had no car that first year; Ralph’s salary was just $1,800 annually, and we lived in campus housing.”

By 1963, they scraped together a down payment on a three-bedroom house in Nashville where their three children (Laura, Clayton, and Kenny) grew up. Ralph and Margaret still live there 45 years later.


Three-Hat Husband

Ralph was 23 when he began his 50-year tenure at FWBBC. In time, he would earn three graduate degrees to complete his formal studies, teach a wide variety of courses, chair the Biblical and Ministry Studies Department, and lead the Free Will Baptist denomination as moderator of the National Association.

But in the fall of 1958, the just-married Ralph Hampton was a fast-track rookie at the denomination’s flagship college. He wore three hats that first year, in addition to husband and preacher. He taught 15 hours (which would now be considered an overload), served as director of Christian Service, and was dormitory supervisor.

“Fortunately, we had no routine faculty meetings and no committees,” Ralph said. “When some pressing matter arose, the Dean would call the faculty together to consider whatever action needed to be taken. That all changed over time, of course, as the college pursued regional accreditation. Now we have committees functioning at all levels and faculty meetings almost weekly.”

Ralph’s brother Charles joined the FWBBC faculty in 1974 and served 25 years alongside him, 20 years as Registrar. Younger brother Larry came on board later as an adjunct faculty member.


Touched by Great Men

Ralph was surrounded by people who influenced his life. He credits medical doctor Ron Winkle with “getting me to FWBBC.” However, pioneer Free Will Baptist preachers in Oklahoma and California were always part of his life. The energetic pastors and church planters gave him a sense of pride in the denomination, an urgency to prepare educationally, and the drive to make a difference. Men such as Reford Wilson, George McLain, E.E. Morris, Wade Jernigan, Clay and Jack Richey, and others who carried the Free Will Baptist flag branded him with denominational loyalty.

His half-century in FWBBC classrooms placed him a handshake away from men who changed the Free Will Baptist landscape and took the eager young teacher/preacher under their wing, preparing him for broader service.

“L.C. Johnson’s philosophy of consistent Christian living came through every day in chapel when he spoke,” comments Ralph. “Leroy Forlines forced me to think, helped me to think clearer, and opened the book of Romans to me as no one had ever done. Charles Thigpen’s ability to get things done quickly and professionally, Robert Picirilli’s ability with biblical languages, and men like them kept me challenged and encouraged.”


Meteoric Rise to Leadership

While in his prime at FWBBC, Ralph blazed a 15-year trail across the denomination as a national Free Will Baptist leader. Beginning in 1981 at age 46, he was elected six times as assistant moderator of the National Association of Free Will Baptists.

At age 52, he began his signature nine-year run as moderator, culminating in one of the Association’s most emotionally-charged and pivotal gatherings—the 1995 convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, when delegates instructed the annual Leadership Conference to grapple with two landmark resolutions that would alter the future of the movement.

“That was a crisis moment in our history,” Ralph said. “Men had reached a point where they felt they couldn’t be brethren and friends with those who disagreed with them. The 1995 convention and Leadership Conference called us back to our roots as Christian brothers and Free Will Baptists.”


Life in the Stacks

While Ralph was teaching students, pursuing graduate degrees, and moderating national conventions, Margaret began her own historic service at Free Will Baptist Bible College. The family had struggled financially while Ralph was on a two-year sabbatical at Covenant Theological Seminary.

“I decided we had lived in poverty long enough,” Margaret said. “It was easier to work than stay at home and worry how we were going to make it. The Business Office at the college needed help, and I worked there from time to time. Dr. Charles Thigpen wanted me to work in the library. He gave me the choice, and I chose the library. I had no idea it would last 37 years as library manager!”

She enjoyed exchanges with students as they came and went in the library stacks. Her most challenging work was a two-year project getting the card catalog online.

“I’ve worn out three typewriters since I’ve been here,” Margaret said. “I will never forget cataloging a book of sermons for the Historical Collection that required typing over 100 cards in the card catalog for that one book alone!”


Mother’s Prayers

Converted at age five near Gapman, Mississippi, under the preaching of M.L. Hollis, Margaret began teaching Sunday School when she was in the ninth grade. She learned to pray at the feet of the most influential person in her life, her mother.

“My mother was a prayer warrior,” she said. “She spent time with me and my brother Bill, reading and praying and talking with us. She taught me to pray while a bad storm howled outside the door. I’m convinced that our son Clayton (home missionary in Clarksville, Tennessee) is preaching today because of Mother’s prayers.”


87 Years in Guitar Gulch

Looking back on their combined 87 years at FWBBC, Ralph and Margaret agree they wouldn’t change much about their lives together.

“I’d make longer days,” Margaret said. “There was so much to do. We didn’t know how to say No. Times got really hard when Ralph was teaching full-time in the day and two nights each week, and we had two babies at home. We needed money to pay the bills. Thank goodness for a small church that called Ralph as pastor, and we served there over three years.”

Ralph, on the other hand, “would probably figure out a way to do fewer things, do some things better and specialize more instead of being so spread out in the jobs and duties.”

“We had such a diversity of students in the 1950s and 1960s,” he said, “with World War II and Korean War veterans sitting in classrooms alongside freshmen just out of high school. They seemed more serious about studying than some of today’s students. Of course, they were older as well.”

Ralph’s favorite class to teach in his early years was Ancient History, a class that many of his students remind him of to this day. He brought humor and Bible together, along with historical insight and facts. His most difficult class was Isaiah—the book was too big for students to grasp in one semester.


"They Shaped FWBBC"

FWBBC president Matt Pinson said it best when addressing a May 15 retirement dinner honoring the Hamptons, “They shaped FWBBC. Ralph was a rock of stability on campus for five decades. We will miss his quiet strength. Margaret has been a model of hard work, virtue, and an encouraging friend and colleague. Thank God for the influence of these faithful servants of Jesus.”

Their well-earned retirement in hand, the Hamptons can refocus their attention from decades of classroom preparation and card catalogs to gardening, some light reading, home repairs, and Margaret’s favorite pastime—travel, if the price of gasoline cooperates, that is.

As Ralph and Margaret sat at a table in the History Room on the second floor of Welch Library at FWBBC, he turned to her with a twinkle in his eye and said softly, “They cut down the Parting Tree.”

This time she blushed.


About the Writer: Jack Williams is director of communications at Free Will Baptist Bible College.


The Ralph Hampton Record

A.A., East Contra Costa Junior College, 1955
B.A., Free Will Baptist Bible College, 1958
M.A., Winona Lake School of Theology, 1961
M.Div., Covenant Theological Seminary, 1970
D.Min. (ABD), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School

Denominational Service
Moderator, National Association of
Free Will Baptists, 1987-1996
Assistant Moderator, National Association of
Free Will Baptists. 1981-1987
Faculty, Free Will Baptist Bible College, 1958-2008
Curriculum Writer, Randall House Publications
Writer, Contact
Writer, ONE Magazine

Oakwood FWB Church / Woodlawn, Tennessee (1962-1965)
Rock Springs FWB Church / Charlotte, Tennessee (1966-1968)
Twin City FWB Church / Festus, Missouri (1968-1970)
Ashland City FWB Church / Ashland City,
Tennessee (1971-1972)
Cross Timbers FWB Church / Nashville, Tennessee (1975-1979)
Bethlehem FWB Church / Ashland City, Tennessee (Interim, seven months)

FWBBC Honors
Professor Emeritus (2004)
Chairman, Biblical and Ministry Studies
Department, 2004-2008
Outstanding Student Award (1958)
Student Body President (1958)
Editor, Lumen (1957)
Editor, Envoy (1957)
Assistant Editor, Envoy (1956)

Born: December 13, 1934 (Blanchard, Oklahoma)
Conversion: 1946, First Oklahoma Association Youth Camp
Licensed to Preach: 1960
Ordained: 1962
Married: Margaret Evans (August 22, 1958)
Children: Laura, Clayton, Kenny
Grandchildren: Eight





About Margaret

“I’ve worked 23 years with Margaret. When I started at Welch Library as a student clerk, she was my supervisor. From her, I learned about faithfulness to my Lord, to my family, to my church, to my friends, and to my job. Margaret does the routine stuff and the hard stuff. She doesn’t quit until her work is done. She has been the Energizer Bunny of Welch Library.”
—Carol Reid, Librarian, Welch Library, Free Will Baptist Bible College


“As a Navy veteran, I remember the strategic importance of the anchor. Margaret is one of the anchors the Lord provided at FWBBC to keep the college on course and on mission. She is steady, dependable, and ready to grab hold of whatever the task. She has also been an exemplary wife and mother. It has been an honor to serve with her.”
—Tom Sass, Vice President for Financial Affairs, Free Will Baptist Bible College


  • “S—Service. Margaret did it all: cooking, cleaning, teaching, speaking, teaching. Back in the 1959 spring semester, she used to host Charlie (Ralph’s brother Charles) and me for an after-church meal Sunday nights. Never anything fancy, but something to help fill the ravenous appetites of growing boys.

  • I—Intrepid. Through childhood, she was my defender and shield. I was never afraid when she took my hand.

  • S—Steady. She was direct and sure in movement. When she decided to attend FWBBC, she did so over the objections of our pastor, but with the approval of our parents.

  • T—True Blue. She was marked by unswerving loyalty.

  • E—Energetic. She never flagged in serving her family, parents, husband, children, and my family. When there was work to be done, she could always be counted on.

  • R—Reliable. I have been blessed by this fine lady all my life. I feel sorry for all of you who have not had her for a sister. I was never disappointed in her.”

—William (Bill) Evans, Margaret’s Brother, Retired Director, Free Will Baptist Foundation


About Ralph

“Ralph has had a profound influence on my life. I came to FWBBC because of him. He was my teacher—one of the best I ever had. Free Will Baptist Bible College may have had more intelligent teachers than Ralph, but I’m not sure who it would be. There have been teachers with more education; make that degrees. I am convinced there has been no better man who has taught here. I once told a young lady I dated that I wished I was more like Ralph. She asked why, and I replied, ‘Because he’s more like Jesus than I am.’ He still is.”
—Larry Hampton, Ralph’s Brother, Free Will Baptist Bible College


“Had he played baseball, Ralph would have been the consummate utility player, able to fill any position on the field with skill and aplomb—the unheralded, underrated team player often undervalued by all except his teammates who couldn’t win games without him. Had he lived in Old Testament days, Ralph would have occupied the leading seat in the city gate as the hakam, the wise man dispensing skilled counsel in helping people live bountifully. Ralph leaves an indelible imprint on this school and on all of us he has taught, and that imprint bears a striking resemblance to the Savior whom he loves and whom he has taught us to love.”
—Garnett Reid, Old Testament Professor, Free Will Baptist Bible College


“Ralph and Margaret Hampton have been precious jewels on our faculty and staff for essentially all of their adult lives. Ralph came to FWBBC as a student in the fall of 1955; he was an excellent student. I still remember Dr. Johnson’s expression of high opinion about Ralph’s potential as a teacher when we were discussing the possibility of bringing him back (to teach). Ralph has graced this campus with a lifetime of quiet, dependable service. We could always count on him to be there, to do what was needed, and to do it without making a fuss. He was dedicated to keeping the school true to its founding mission, and he never swerved in his thinking from that ideal. He gave sound and long-term leadership as chairman of the Department of Biblical and Ministry Studies.”
—Robert Picirilli, Professor Emeritus, Retired, Free Will Baptist Bible College



©2008 ONE Magazine, National Association of Free Will Baptists