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God’s Circuit Rider


In Memoriam

God’s Circuit Rider

Some of you may remember The Kingston Trio. They sang about a friend of mine in the early 60s, but they never had the privilege of meeting him. The song was "The Reverend Mr. Black". During those days, I was a graduate student attending classes in Wake Forest, NC. The words I recall to this day: "He was a mountain of a man and I want ya to know / He could preach hot hell in the freezin’ snow." I often wondered about this giant of a man who "carried a Bible in a canvas sack", who in the song "was poor as a beggar but he rode like a king". The writers go on to say "sometimes in the evenin’ I could hear him sing / I got to walk that lonesome valley / I got to walk it by myself / for nobody else can walk it for me / I got to walk it by myself."

Over 30 years later, I met the man that Billy Edd Wheeler, Jed Peters, Jerry Lieber, and Mike Stroller wrote and sang about in their beautiful hit song that peaked in Billboard’s #8 position in 1963. He was God’s Circuit Rider, Ron Elerick. Robert Burns rode a horse as an exciseman. So did Sir Walter Scott. Ron road a Harley, and he ministered to "bikers" all over Alaska and throughout our mid-western states. He thought nothing of climbing on his "Hog" and riding down to California or through the Midwest. He mentioned to me in a 1997 letter that he had put 15,421 miles on his bike between June 4 and September 11 that year. When he replaced his old bike, there were 145,211 miles on it, ministering to bikers. I think, to paraphrase The Kingston Trio, "he rode the Harley like a king". Ron was a former Alaska State Trooper, minister, policeman, evangelist, and missionary to Africa among the Zulus from 1975-83. He once told me, "my life has been a great adventure".

His mother was Polly Shaw, and his Shaw blood boiled up in him and made him seek out his Scottishness regarding family and Scotland. He wanted to know more about Clan Shaw. He knocked on the right door when he called me because we hit it off instantly. There was a bond between us concerning our name and our Scottishness.

While serving as High Commissioner of Clan Saw, I asked our Chief, John Shaw of Tordarroch, 22nd Hereditary Chief, to honor Ron as a Chief’s Lieutenant, and on 20 January 1999, papers were recorded in the Books of the Lord Lyon, King of Arms, Edinburgh, Scotland, to that effect. Soon after, Ron wrote in a letter that "apart from being a Christian (that is #1), the highest personal thing meaning the most to me is the appointment by our Chief to serve as one of his Lieutenants!!" Ron also served as the Commissioner in Alaska for Clan Chattan (USA), the "Cat Confederation".

Ron was a man of God, unashamedly! The last time I saw him was at the Pleasanton Scottish Games in California. On that Sunday evening we stood in the restaurant parking lot, and he asked Howard and Marialyce Shaw, Susan and me, and his wife Cindi if we would join him in prayer as we made our way back to our separate homes in Alaska, California, and Georgia. One would be a fool to tell this man "No". I’ll always be grateful for that weekend we spent together.

Ron was a special man, a wonderful person who loved his fellow man with all his soul. He was a man of the cloth and a man of the tartan - his email name was "kiltedpreacher". If ever there was a true representative of a Highlander, the "kiltedpreacher" was that man.

Think back with me to when this country was being settled in the 1700s, and courageous men were pushing the seams of our boundaries ever westward. Can you imagine how dangerous the rivers must have been to those pioneering men and women? There were very few roads and no bridges. They took their lives into their own hands just to find a place to call home. As they crossed rivers, they would tie ropes to each other for their own safety. People needed someone to pluck them from the swift currents when the white caps of death beckoned. Beth Gay told me that such a person was described by the noted western writer Louie L’Amour as "He’ll do to ride the river with". That was as big a compliment as L’Amour could give to anyone. Ron Elerick was that kind of man. I’d walk any dark alley with him, not because of his mammoth size or herculean strength, but because of what was in his heart - loyalty, faith, and love. The old Shaw motto sums him up as well as any Shaw I’ve ever met, our esteemed chief included - "Fide et Fortitudine" or "faith and fidelity". I often thought of Ron and I regret, as we all do when it is too late, that we did not spend more time together.

Ron married Arleen Evans in 1964, and they had three children. Arleen died in Africa. He later married Cindi Bushnell, the mother of their two children. In an email to Cindi upon learning of his death, I wrote, "Ron told me he loved you dearly and that you were the love of his life. He also said he couldn’t do all that he did without your support by his side, that he depended on you daily so he could function as well as he did. Cindi, what y’all had, money couldn’t buy. I count it a privilege to call him my buddy." Yes, "he was a mountain of a man…".

- Frank R. Shaw, Atlanta, GA, 1/30/03

Reverend Mr. Black

Artists: The Kingston Trio (peak Billboard position # 8 in 1963)
Words and Music by Billy Edd Wheeler, Jed Peters, Jerry Lieber, and Mike Stoller


He rode easy in the saddle, he was tall and lean
And at first ya thought nothin’ but a streak of mean
Could make a man look so downright strong
But one look in his eyes and ya knowed ya was wrong
He was a mountain of a man and I want ya to know
He could preach hot hell in the freezin’ snow
He carried a bible in a canvas sack
The folks just called him the Reverend Mr. Black
He was poor as a beggar but he rode like a king
And sometimes in the evenin’ I could hear him sing

I got to walk that lonesome valley
I got to walk it by myself
for nobody else can walk it for me
I got to walk it by myself.

If ever I could have thought this man in black
Was soft, had any yellow up his back
I gave that notion up the day
A lumberjack came in and a-wasn’t a-prayin’
Yeah, he kicked open the meetin’ house door
And he cussed everybody up and down the floor
And then when things got quiet in the place
He walked up and cussed in the preacher’s face.
He hit that reverend like the kick of a mule
And to my way of thinkin’ it took a pure fool
To turn the other cheek to that lumberjack
But that’s what he did, the Reverend Mr. Black.
He stood like a rock, a man among men
Then he let that lumberjack hit him again
And then with a voice as kind as could be
He cut him down like a big oak tree when he said

You got to walk that lonesome valley
You got to walk it by yourself
for nobody else can walk it for you
You got to walk it by yourself.

It’s been many years since we had to part
And I guess I learned his ways by heart
I can still hear his sermons ring down in the valley where he used to sing
I followed him, yes sir, and I don’t regret it
Hope that I’ll always be a credit to his memory
‘cause I want ya to understand
The Reverend Mr. Black was my old man

You got to walk that lonesome valley
You got to walk it by yourself
for nobody else can walk it for you
You got to walk it by yourself.

You got to walk that lonesome valley
FADE: You got to walk it by yourself
for nobody


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