SJ Stovall: the difference one man can make
SJ Stovall was born in Lufkin, Texas in September of 1925. His parents couldn’t decide on a given name for their son, so they wrote his father’s initials – “SJ” – on his birth certificate as a temporary solution. What was temporary, however, became permanent, when the parents didn’t change the birth certificate, or his name. In an interview with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, SJ said that he guessed he was thirteen before he “realized that SJ – my father’s initials – didn’t stand for anything.” When SJ would tell that story to many of us around “Mission Arlington®,” he would always have a “twinkle in his eye,” and a broad smile. He loved to tell that story, especially when people asked him (often repeatedly) what those initials stood for.
While it is true, according to SJ, that his initials “didn’t stand for anything,” nothing could have been further from the truth when it came to the man that he was, and the way that he lived his life. A dedicated public servant, SJ served as both a city councilman, and Mayor of Arlington, investing more than two decades of his life to serve his community effectively. In addition to his work with the City of Arlington, SJ was on the board of trustees for Arlington Memorial hospital, and also, the President of the North Central Texas Council of Governments.
He was also a dedicated man of faith. A long time member of and leader in First Baptist Church, Arlington, the Burgins and Stovalls became friends along the way. Together, they celebrated Christmas Eve, birthdays, and other events through the years. The Burgin brothers, both on staff at Mission Arlington®, and Jean Cagle, Director of the Allan Saxe Dental Clinic, remember those annual gatherings fondly. It was natural, therefore, under God’s leadership, for Mayor Stovall to become the founder and the chair of Mission Metroplex, Inc. which was formed to support and under-gird the work of Mission Arlington® in 1990. He served in that role for close to two decades. Under his leadership, the work of Mission Arlington/Mission Metroplex grew significantly.
Because of SJ’s relationship with the Lord, he had a winsome way about him. He always made it a point to provide encouragement to the staff of Mission Arlington®. He especially admired the student interns, called “Summer Missionaries,” young people from 16-23 years of age, who gave their summers free of charge to serve the Lord at the mission. Because of that, SJ, or “the mayor,” as he was often called, created an annual breakfast to honor the missionaries. SJ would purchase the food, and on July 4th each year, the missionaries, staff, and other board members would enjoy the fresh fair provided, the fellowship, and then afterwards, a full-fledged parade. The numbers swelled over time to include many from one of Mission Arlington’s 349 congregations.
SJ Stovall passed away in July of 2010 at the age of 84. He lived his life well, and we continue to find inspiration from his dedication and his relationship with the Lord. Since that time, Mission Arlington® has continued the tradition of providing a treat for Summer Missionaries, and providing honor to these young people who have given of themselves so sacrificially here in our city. As we gather for breakfast this morning, many of us will remember SJ, and the difference he made.
Thank you, Mayor Stovall, and to God be the glory!