I’ve been looking forward to this episode for a few weeks!
Dr. Bob Jones III joins me in my office to discuss his upcoming marriage to Dr. Karen Rowe. We discuss how God led him to this decision, his thoughts and feelings behind the decision and we also answer all the questions everyone has about this exciting news.
I want to thank Dr. Bob for both his time and candor. He has been a great friend to me and I couldn’t be happier for him and Dr. Rowe as they begin their new life together.
As always, you can listen to this episode and all future episodes on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. I’d really appreciate if you could leave us a positive review—it will help others find our podcast.
Smith: Welcome to Highest Potential with Dr. Steve Pettit, a podcast that explores how Bob Jones University empowers individuals to reach their highest potential for God’s glory. I’m here in his office with Dr. Pettit, and how are you doing today, Doc?
Pettit: Caroline, it has been a beautiful day here, and I am particularly looking forward to this interview. Today, we have Dr. Bob Jones III, and Dr. Bob has a very important event coming up in his life in just a few days, and so, we’re going to take some time to have him tell us his story and what God has been doing in his life over the last year.
Smith: And I myself am quite eager to hear about that, so let’s go ahead and listen in on that discussion.
Pettit: Well, today we have a very special guest with us today, a special interview, and that’s with Dr. Bob Jones III, the chancellor here at Bob Jones University. And it’s about his upcoming wedding to Dr. Karen Rowe, who is a long-time English professor here at the University. So, Dr. Bob, welcome. Thank you for being with us today.
Jones: Well, thank you, Mr. President, I’m pleased to be here and kind of amazed that our upcoming wedding should be worthy of a subject of attention.
Pettit: Well, you know, people are interested in people. That’s the world we live in today and people want to know what’s happening and how did things come about. So, I thought it’d be a good opportunity for you to just to share really what the Lord is doing in your life. People love you, people care about you and people are interested. So, or as students would say, “What’s the T on Dr. Bob?” That’s the question.
So, let me just begin first of all with some basic questions, and that is, what’s happening and when and where. So, I know it’s coming up very quickly.
Jones: Yes. As of today, it’s a week and a day away, March 7, in the afternoon—just a little family wedding. She has no family, no siblings, her parents are both passed away, so her colleagues, her peers, the faculty and some local friends will be her family and my family, most of them will be able to be here. So, we’re having a little ceremony in the rotunda of what was the Art Gallery until two years ago. And it’s a beautiful place, and the Art Gallery is very special to both Karen and me; we’re on the little Museum and Gallery board together. And of course, when I went in there and we looked it over with the thought of a wedding, all of a sudden, I was overwhelmed with the thought, you know, my dad would enjoy this if he were here. This gallery was the source of his attention, it was his—after the Lord and my mother—it might have been his third love. Maybe the kids got in there somewhere, I don’t know, but he spent so much time there, I just kind of had to laugh inside and thought, “What an appropriate place for this wedding.”
Pettit: Well, I know it will be very special, and we definitely are happy for you and the way God has led, so, as we would say, tell us the story. This is—a lot has transpired in your life in the last thirteen months here, and so, we want to hear.
Jones: Well, thank you. Just over a year ago as you say, my wife changed addresses. She took up residence in Heaven with the Lord she loved so greatly and tried to serve. And, wow, what can I say? I guess I’m just a typical sort of widower. I tried to talk to all of them I could find, tell me about your journey, tell me what is normal. How do you deal with life without your companion, the love of your life? How do you deal when she’s not there? You depended on her for so much. You loved her so greatly, and how can a man possibly stand the thought, if he’s had a good wedding—a good marriage, as I have, how can he stand the thought of not being married?
Pettit: 59 years.
Jones: 59 years. Something’s just not right when she’s gone. I was very, very lonely. Thank the Lord for my family, my friends, my colleagues. You and Terry have been wonderful friends, so many have and yet, you miss the companionship of a loving wife. Coming home after the day is over, the silence is deafening—what can I say?
And I guess my children noticed that; I thought I had camouflaged it more than I did, evidently. And last August, they were together with me and they said, “Dad, you need to be remarried. We know you’re going to remarry; you should remarry. You’ve never in your life liked being alone. When Mother would go away to speak to a ladies’ group on a weekend and you happened to be home that weekend, no sooner had you gotten back from the airport, then you would call Roxane, our daughter, and say ‘Get the kids; let’s have pizza. I can’t stand to be alone this weekend.’” So, they said, “We want you to remarry and we’re good with it, just want you to know.” Well, that was a huge thing for me to hear.
Pettit: You know, oftentimes when a remarriage like this takes place in the loss of a spouse, that the individuals that have the biggest struggle with it are the children, so this is a great blessing to you personally.
Jones: Yes. It took away a lot of tension from my life. Well, I mentioned I spoke to all the widowers who would lend me their ear about widowerhood. And then, Karen and my wife were friends. Karen had a housemate, a member of the faculty here, for 15 years they roomed together.
Pettit: And maybe just, if you don’t mind, just give us a little bit of a detail about Karen because there’ll be folks listening who would not know who she is.
Jones: Yes, Karen Rowe. Her mother moved here from Alabama to put her in school in the sixth grade in the BJ Elementary at that time, and she stayed all the way through her master’s degree here and went away with Mona Dunckel, that I just mentioned, and the two of them got their doctorates together at Bowling Green University in Ohio and then came back. She’s taught more than 30 years on the faculty. And she, having been through the experience of being the caregiver for Mona for five years while Mona had contracted cancer and then passed away, she knew a lot about grief. I don’t know exactly how we first started talking, but she’s very gifted of God as a communicator and is very intelligent and intuitive person. One of the things that first attracted me was her incredible understanding of how you feel before you express yourself. That’s a little scary, actually, but that’s the way she is. Very discerning.
Pettit: Can read your mind a little bit.
Jones: Yes, but it did attract me to her, and her answers were so thought-provoking and penetrated so deeply to my soul, and I realized she really understands me. She knows what I’m experiencing, so we talked more and more, mostly by phone, for a long time. And then, I thought maybe we should try to talk face-to-face, but the problem was, where do we go? What do we do?
Pettit: Yeah, I don’t think you can go to many places in Greenville, South Carolina, where somebody doesn’t know who you are.
Jones: There are so many graduates and friends of this school all over this part of the world. This was our problem, and so we would often, if we wanted to try to have a meal and even then, we were at full attention—what if somebody sees us? The rumors might get around.
Pettit: So, what was the furthest you drove to have a meal?
Jones: Well, probably about an hour up into North Carolina, and places just away from here down into Georgia. Just to be together some, having a picnic here and there or a walk together in a state park or something, and so, then my daughter …
Pettit: This was back when, when was this?
Jones: Oh, this would have been back in the late summer, I guess, when all of this—fall, maybe. My daughter said, she realized my dilemma, and she said, “Dad, just come on over to our house. You can come over here.” She said, “Now, I never thought I’d be chaperoning my dad, but I’ll take care of this if you’ll come over here,” so we did some.
Pettit: So, did y’all do that on a number of occasions?
Jones: For weeks and weeks and weeks, we were looking for venues where we could be together in a proper way, and yeah, sometimes we would just drive. We would just drive up to the mountains together and drive back and just talk, just somewhere where we could talk.
Pettit: Now, I know that there would be, particularly, there would be students that would know, you know, did you call her parents for a date? You didn’t have to do that. Tell us a little bit about her dad. I thought it was very, very interesting.
Jones: Her dad was a Navy guy, and when World War II broke out and was stationed in Guam. Guam, of course, fell immediately to the Japanese, and he was taken captive and spent the entire war in a POW camp near Hiroshima, Japan.
Pettit: That is a, that’s a really amazing story.
Jones: And her mother knew about the university, and she moved Karen up here. She wanted a good education for her. Karen, by God’s grace, is a very bright and savvy lady, and she needed something more that the schools where she was could give her, so her mother moved her here.
Pettit: So, back to your budding relationship here, when in your mind did you think this could go to marriage?
Jones: Well, these things just sort of start emerging. It would be hard to say when the first time, the first thought came. Those thoughts usually come gently, and then you reassess them and then they keep coming back, you know how that goes. Sometime in the summer, I guess, those thoughts began to emerge.
Pettit: And obviously, she was enjoying the conversations, and just the time together?
Jones: She certainly seemed to, yes, so that was an encouragement to my thoughts—well, she’s not resisting these little things I would try to drop along the way—didn’t seem to run from them.
Pettit: So, is there a ring here? How does this work? Everybody wants to wonder about that one.
Jones: Well, this is not … (laughs). OK. Well, we talked about a ring sometime in the later fall, and she knew one was coming, but I was trying to figure out, OK, what’s the time frame here that is proper. You know, the Bible doesn’t tell us how soon remarriage should occur, or if it should occur, but you know, most people kind of in their mind, I think, have “Well, it ought to be a year, anyway.” Some people would say you shouldn’t even start the subject before a year; others would say you shouldn’t marry before a year. I took the latter position. So anyway, she knew one was coming, and we also knew that our efforts to be covert in our visible dating venues—we had to find a way at some point to just sort of show up in public. So, we showed up in public the first time, I think it was December 20, Rivertree Singers concert of Christmas music at the Second Pres. Church here in Greenville.
Pettit: You know, I didn’t know anything until right about the time you made it public. Of course, I was out of town at the time. I would have to say that I have heard rumored that there were freshmen who were trying to get into Dr. Rowe’s class on the second semester because there was somehow a rumor going on, and of course, she’s taking a sabbatical this semester from teaching, so y’all were in public …
Jones: The 20th of December, the first time.
Pettit: And, did anybody recognize you together?
Jones: Oh, it was dreadfully painful for both of us because we were waiting on another couple. I had bought tickets for about 15 people that evening that I thought would enjoy the concert. One of the couples got their calendars messed up—they didn’t come. We were waiting and waiting in the lobby for them. The rest of our guests had already—they seated us on the second row, right behind the conductor. So, we had to walk in just before it began, the two of us, and we were paraded right down in front of everybody, and we sensed that there were many stares. And as soon as we would look to one side or the other people would glance away so we didn’t see them looking at us. It was kind of funny.
But anyway, I didn’t get the ring until maybe about a month ago, actually. I bought it—my daughter actually went and helped me pick it out. I wanted a woman’s point of view on that. So, anyway, I’m thinking, now how am I going to get this to her? The time between giving her the ring and actual marriage getting smaller and smaller, and I didn’t have much of an envelope there or opportunity to dream up something really romantic and you know, unique like people enjoy doing on those occasions. And truthfully, I was invited out one evening to the home of some graduates, wonderful, wonderful people, and people have been so kind to me, feeding me, and anyway, it was a wonderful occasion, and I had to run off in a hurry because there was a viewing of a deceased friend here in a church and I had to get there before it closed that evening. So, I excused myself early from our little gathering, ran and got Karen, we went to the viewing, and then I thought suddenly, wait a minute, we don’t have many days to get engaged before I marry.
So, I said, “Karen, let’s go get something to eat. We’ll have some dessert, but I’ve got to run by the house first and get something.” So, I ran into the house, grabbed this ring, got back in the car with her, and I said, “You know, what’s open? It’s almost 9:30 here. Anything open besides Waffle House? I can’t think of anything besides Waffle House.” That didn’t seem to be the best environment, so I said, “Let’s just drive down Main Street.” So, we drove down Main Street, nothing was open at that time, until we got down near the Westin Hotel. And right on the right, she said, “There’s a place,” and sure enough it was. I turned around and came back and lo and behold, it was a restaurant called the Nosedive. We got engaged in the Nosedive.
Now, it sounds like a joint, but it’s really a very nice restaurant. We went in there, there was hardly anybody else there, and so I gave her the ring there, that night. It was spontaneous, after a viewing (laughs).
Pettit: What a day!
Jones: It was unexpected for both of us!
Pettit: Well, it creates a lot of excitement, for sure. So y’all are going to be married here coming up very soon. And I’m sure—Karen’s going to be your wife and … .
Jones: That’s the plan!
Pettit: That’s the plan. Is she planning to teach again?
Jones: Oh, she loves teaching. She very much wants to teach. Her health in the last year has not been really good, and an English teacher has more papers to grade than any other teacher in the university, and it really wore her down, and I can’t say enough thanks for the way her dean, Dr. Wentworth, and Bruce Rose, her chair, and Dr. Weier; they understood. In fact, she was asking for a leave starting next fall, and they said, “Look, we know that your health is not good. Why don’t you start it now, in January, and if you need to extend it, you can extend it into the fall. So, how that happens will have to do with how she feels and what our schedule might happen to be.
Pettit: So, it looks like she’ll be able to do some travelling with you, I think?
Jones: Yes. One of the hard things as a bachelor is travelling alone and trying to minister in churches without your wife where you’re always with other couples, going to eat, fellowshipping, and you’re just kind of a fifth wheel out there, you know. And yes, I’m very much looking forward to her travelling with me.
Pettit: Well, I know that it’ll be great, because people will be excited to talk to you when they go out, as they already are, but I think this would even prove to be more so. Are y’all planning to live here on campus, or is that … ?
Jones: I knew that that would probably be a coming question. Yes, we are. Bottom line, yes. We’ve had a lot of discussions about that because I want to be sure she’s good with that. And she wants to be sure that I’m going to be good with that. Same house where I’ve lived for all these prior years. Our plan is to stay there as long as we’re involved with the school and qualify, therefore, to be there. But, as far as we can see, yes, that’s where we’re going to be. That’s all I know to say at this point.
Pettit: Well, I understand that. Now, I know this is a big deal to students; it’s not a big deal at certain points in your life, but there’s a little bit of an age difference there between the two of you and I know that our students are thinking, now, how does that work, but of course, there is a point in life where that’s not as big a deal.
Jones: Yeah. What can I say? I do not think at our age it is that big of a deal and I hope it’s not going to be problematic to … obviously, people are talking with each other maybe about that but not with me, and I’m grateful for their discreetness or whatever, but I think it would be a great deal different if a 40-year-old were marrying a 20-year-old. That’s different.
Jones: OK. But I’m 80 years old, and God’s given me a modicum of health and vigor and desire to serve Him, a great desire to serve Him, and strength and energy, and until He takes that away, I’m assuming that He wants me to continue serving Him …
Jones: And you know, let me just put it all out here. One of the things that made me not sure I wanted to remarry was the fact that whoever I marry, let’s say God gives us ten good years together or even five good years before my health fails and things go downhill and she has to become a caregiver again, and this is not fair to her.
Jones: You know, we’ve talked endlessly these things through, and she said to me one day, “Well, Bob, what if part of my ministry in life is to be a caregiver? I was five years Mona’s caregiver, and I counted it a privilege and a joy. It wasn’t a burden in any way, and if I am called to be that for you, it’s a privilege and a joy. I would want to do that.” And so, those words broke down some of my thought resistance to it. Of course, God could take her before He takes me—who knows these things—but I guess one of the reasons we’re getting married March instead of May, perhaps, or sometime after school is out which would be much quieter and more out of the public eye, is at 80, how long to have to enjoy a happy marriage, so why wait? So, everybody I talked to, I tried to get all the advice I could from everybody, and they said, “What are you waiting for? There’s nothing in the Bible that says how long you have to wait before you remarry and all these things.” I said, “Well, I think there’s certain discreetness, there are certain unspoken proprieties that you need to observe, and so forth.” And so, we tried to do that. She’s a grown, mature woman, and well along in life and yes, she is younger than I am. I didn’t choose her for that reason, it’s not something I sat down and thought now who, who—OK, I’m single, who should I date, who can I date? That never happened. This whole thing unfolded before any of those thoughts ever came along the way. And I just have to believe it’s something that God has put together and I’m grateful for Him doing that …
Pettit: Well, I’ll tell you what, we and me personally, I’m thrilled for you. You have always been a ball of energy, always moving about, always serving, and you loved your wife of 59 years, and I think the people here at the university not only know that, but it was a wonderful example and to me, this is God’s goodness. Where there’s oftentimes ashes, He gives beauty, and where there’s mourning, He brings joy. And, the Lord has been good to you and our hope and prayer for you is this will be a great blessing for you personally and Karen, and that God will give you rich, full days here going forward in the future, and we will pray for you as a university, and we’re just so thankful for you.
And thank you for taking the time to share your story—I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of folks that listen who will be greatly encouraged and comforted and they’re going to be comforted with the comfort that you’ve been comforted with from God.
Jones: Thank you, Dr. Pettit. Those are comforting words. You have comforted me. Can I just put a little tag?
Pettit: Yes, sir.
Jones: Beneth and I loved each other greatly, and it is impossible when you lose your wife and you loved her, not to continue loving her. One of the big hurdles I’ve had, I had to get over. God helped me over it. Some friends and their counsel helped me over it. The idea that somehow, I’m betraying my previous wife—I’m thankful to her, I’m … nothing could be farther from the fact, and Karen understands this, very deeply understands this. You can’t stop talking about the one you loved, you can’t stop loving her, I believe she loves me from heaven, we’ll certainly be together again.
And, if there’s some widower out there contemplating these things, I would just say to him, be sure that whoever you remarry has sensitivity and understanding of the fact that you will probably from time to time still talk about your previous wife and you will have a picture or two around the house. It’s just normal and natural. It’s not that Karen will replace my wife; she could never do that. She would not—she knows better than anybody she’s not replacing my wife. My wife’s time here was not cut short. God ordained that our marriage should end, and since He’s ordained that man should not be alone but needs a helper, I believe that He’s given me a new wife and a new helper, according to His plan.
Pettit: Well, thank you so much Dr. Bob, and those are wonderful and I know will be an encouragement—wonderful words and will be a great encouragement to a lot of people. Thank you very much.
Pettit: That was a wonderful interview from Dr. Bob, and I just want to say thank you to him for his example, and we rejoice with him in his upcoming wedding to Dr. Karen Rowe.
Well, Caroline, we’ve got a lot going on on campus right now and tell us with what’s happening with College Up Close.
Smith: Yeah, well this week we are currently having the record number for having people for College Up Close, including a really large group from the Dominican Republic, which is really cool. I have a lot of them staying in the dorms. It’s always very exciting, especially on freshman hall, where I am currently living. When you have any kind of visitors, because it’s already a very excited and energetic group of people, then you add in people who have no sleep deprivation whatsoever, and it gets a little loud.
Pettit: I’m sure it does. That’s night and that’s students that are coming to visit Bob Jones, and I believe they came from 19 states. And then of course, the 60 from the Dominican Republic, which is the largest contingency of international students ever to visit Bob Jones University, so we’re thankful, we’re excited about the young people that are coming to BJU, and they’re interested in the value of a Bob Jones University education.
Smith: Yeah, and I came to a few College Up Closes when I was in high school and I think it’s just—it really helped me for sure like not feel as stressed about coming here. Because when you have slept in the dorm and walked to classes and you’ve eaten in the Dining Common, it just makes everything a lot more, OK, I could potentially live here, this isn’t as scary as I thought it was going to be.
Pettit: If you’re interested in visiting Bob Jones University during a College Up Close, you can go online to bju.edu, click on Admission & Aid, and underneath you’ll see Visit, click that on, and then you’ll be able to get information for College Up Close. We have three more this semester: one coming up this weekend, March 4 through 7, and then you can follow on at the other weeks and so, hopefully we’d love to see some of you come during our College Up Close. Well, thank you Caroline for coming to my office today.
Smith: Yeah, always good to come in and talk to you. See you next week.
Smith: Thank you for listening to this episode of Highest Potential with Steve Pettit. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave us a positive review on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or wherever you happen to get your podcast. And don’t forget to follow BJU on social media @bjuedu and Dr. Steve [email protected]