The Rev. Earl W. “Buddy” Duggins, a longtime Texas pastor, died from a heart attack on Easter Sunday shortly after delivering an impassioned sermon in which he lamented not dying with his wife, Connie, who passed two months earlier. He was 81.
Duggins, who led the Forest Home Baptist Church in Kilgore, shared near the end of his sermon broadcast on Facebook how he wrestled privately with the death of his late wife, to whom he was married for more than 59 years.
“I close with this true testimony from my heart. I prayed about it and God told me to get it,” he began.
“Just about two-and-a-half months ago my wife of 59 years plus passed, died. I was by her bedside. I kissed her lips just seconds before she drew her last breath. My family was there. My girls, one of my grandsons and my son-in-law were there. We of course wept. I said these words, ‘absent from the body present with the Lord,’” he said.
Over the next few days, Duggins said he put on a stoic front, even leading his wife’s funeral service. After that, however, he struggled.
“I was having a difficult time sleeping. I would cry myself to sleep every night. My family stayed with me for a few nights, then I stayed over at my daughter's home for a few nights. They [would] say, ‘how you doing dad?’ I said, ‘Oh, I’m fine.’ But I would cover up my head in my little room and I would cry and cry and cry. And after a while the Lord spoke to my heart, and I began to thank God,” he said.
Duggins then explained that even though he wanted to die with his wife, God explained to him why he was made a widower and it gave him comfort.
“The Bible came to my heart, ‘in everything give thanks, for this is the will of Christ concerning you.’ And I wanted to be in God’s will and so I began to pray. ‘Lord, I thank you for the 59 years four months, 13 days and one hour that we had together,’” he explained.
“And then it came to me, why am I left? And it bothered my heart. Here’s my wife that we wanted to go together. And she’s now gone. I said, ‘Lord, why am I left?’ And the answer has come to my heart. ‘I’ve left you here to do nothing more than to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ that you’ve been preaching for 55 years. So I stand today this resurrection day to tell you, Jesus Christ is alive,” he declared. “He has helped me. He has blessed me. I praise His holy name today.”
Church members told the Kilgore News Herald that shortly after he preached that message, Duggins began to feel unwell and they called an ambulance. He was taken to Christus Good Shepherd hospital for treatment where he died of a heart attack.
Mark Fried, the church’s minister of music, said the late pastor’s wife died after a 30-year battle with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The Tyler Paper noted that the pastor’s marriage was “a wonderful picture of God’s love.”
“Buddy and Connie’s marriage was a wonderful picture of God’s love. Their 59 years of marriage saw many blessings, including the birth of their three beloved daughters, four grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Buddy’s family was his pride and joy. Buddy stood by Connie’s side through her nine battles with cancer. Their faith in God saw them through and kept them close to each other,” the obituary said.
It was also noted that the late couple led seven churches together, including Forest Home Baptist Church which Duggins led for more than 30 years.
“Buddy was an evangelist at heart and he preached over 400 revival meetings. Buddy lived life to the fullest. He had an endless capacity to love people. He never met a stranger and had thousands of friends. He cherished each one,” his obituary said.
“Buddy enjoyed traveling across the country with his grandchildren. He was a sharp dresser, loved Texas BBQ, and was a lifelong Elvis fan. Buddy’s greatest legacy is the thousands of people he led to faith in Jesus Christ. The final words of his Easter sermon, spoken just moments before he went to glory, were ‘believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,’” it added.