A Special Gift a Long Time Ago

I just read his obituary in Christianity Today. “Walter Hooper, a North Carolina man who dedicated his life to preserving and promoting the writings of C. S. Lewis, died Monday at the age of 89. He was sick with COVID-19.”

What an amazing life this man led and he was an important piece of a gift God gave me 19 years ago that has remained a treasured day in my memories. News of his death rekindled those today.

I was in Wales visiting friends and a fellowship there that had been powerfully impacted by some of my earlier books. One night, before bedtime, I was told to be ready to leave early in the morning on a day trip. They wouldn’t tell me where they were taking me, but they were obviously excited.

We got in the car the next morning and off we went back to England. I assumed they had some other folks they wanted me to meet. Soon, however, I noted we were on the road to Oxford. I’d never been there. It was where C.S. Lewis lived, taught, and wrote. My shelves are filled with C.S. Lewis books and others by the Inklings, a group of Christian writers that lived in Oxford. I had hoped that some day I would get to visit the city, the university, and the Kilns, the home where Lewis lived.  That’s where they were taking me and we had a 10:00 am appointment to tour the home, which are only done by prior arrangement.

As we were welcomed into the home, the American student giving us the tour said she could start now, but if we were willing to wait forty-five minutes she said we could join another group that would be extra-special. She didn’t say why but did say she had already gained their permission to let us join in. Since we would be waiting in C.S. Lewis’ library, we opted to join the later tour.

Right on time, two more people arrived. One a college student, and the other an older, soft spoken gentleman (seated above) that was going to lead the tour. He was introduced as “Walter” and though I’d read some of his books about Lewis and some he had edited for him, I don’t know if I’d ever seen his picture. However, as he began to show us around the library, it become clear that he had been in this home with Lewis and knew him quite well. His anecdotes of Lewis’ humor and his insight into his writings were such a delight. Fifteen minutes into the tour it dawned on me who he was and that I was being given a personal tour of C.S. Lewis’ home by someone who had known Lewis and dedicated his life to putting his writings into the world. We spent a couple of hours together and he took us throughout the house and grounds with his stories.

It was one of the most memorable days of my life. And, it seemed like a gift straight from the Father’s hand—that on the far side of the world two friends from Wales would take me to Oxford to surprise me and that we would just happen to be there when Walter Hooper was showing a young friend Lewis’ home and recounting his life and work with Lewis.

I’m grateful at every memory of it, as I was today when I read of Walter Hooper’s passing. At some point in eternity I hope I cross paths with C.S. Lewis and Walter Hooper on the bank of a tranquil stream and talk of the wonders of our God, and all the ways we got him wrong living in this age.

Rest in peace, Walter Hooper.  You’ve enriched the world with your careful work on Lewis’ thoughts and writings.

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