Brother Bill

by the Rev. Paul McLain


Not long after I first arrived at Calvary, the Reverend Bill Kolb sent me an email welcoming me to Calvary and Memphis, letting me know we share a mutual interest in pastoral care and inviting me to lunch at a midtown restaurant at 2:30. I emailed Bill back and said, ‘This all sounds wonderful, but there must be a typo in your email. Don’t you mean 12:30 for lunch?’ Bill emailed me back and said that as I get to know him, I would understand that he really did mean 2:30!


We had several late lunches over the last five years and looking back, I wish we had more. Bill was a wise, thoughtful, kind, caring and humorous mentor, colleague, and friend. But he was more than that. Bill would often refer to me as Brother in his emails. And there was a sense in which he really was my elder brother in ministry.


Bill had the gift of encouragement. A couple of months into the pandemic Bill called me one day. I immediately wondered if he was having more health problems or if he was reporting on a pastoral care check-in with a parishioner he had volunteered to make. Instead, Bill said he was simply calling to check on me! He asked how I was doing. He listened to me. Then he let me know he was thinking about and praying for me and that he was available to be there for me in any way that might be helpful.


The apostle Paul wrote a lot about encouragement. I believe he did this because it was what he first encountered when he came into the Christian community. He had been Saul, the fiercest persecutor and enemy of the Christian community. After his dramatic “blinded by the light” conversion, two of the first people he met were Ananias and Barnabas. While at first skeptical, Ananias tended to Saul, gave him food and drink, and taught him about the way of Jesus that would now guide his life. Most importantly, Ananias did not call him Saul. He called him ‘Brother Saul.’ By doing that Ananias let him know right away that not only was he accepted, he was family.


When Saul returned to Jerusalem to preach and serve Jesus, the Christian community there remembered him as the man who sought to kill them.


And they would have nothing to do with him. Along came Barnabas who took the initiative and had the courage to re-introduce Saul to the community. Barnabas, whose name means ‘son of encouragement,’ vouched for him and told them that Saul’s conversion experience was real. He told them about the great work for Jesus that Saul had already done in Damascus. Because the disciples in Jerusalem trusted Barnabas, based on his re-introduction, they now trusted Saul who became Paul. Paul later paid the gifts of Ananias and Barnabas forward by being a mentor and elder brother in the ministry to Timothy.


Bill was an Ananias, Barnabas, and Paul to me. One of the last emails I received from him was a little gift of affirmation with an encouraging message about our pastoral care ministry with a parishioner who had gone through the very difficult death of a loved one. He signed the email ‘Brother Bill.’

36 thoughts on “Brother Bill”

    1. Thanks, my friend! It was therapeutic for me to write this. And it was great to see you, John, and Bebe in the Waffle Shop car line on Wednesday! Love, Paul

  1. I loved your tribute, Paul, and share your fondness of Bill Kolb’s generous soul. He was a brother to many of us who needed his hugs and encouragement.

    1. Thanks, Linda. It was therapeutic for me to write this. We’ll miss our brother, but will try to follow his example in being brothers and sisters to each other.

    1. Thanks, Needie and Tom,
      It was therapeutic for me to write this. And thanks to you two for sending Bob Owens the Sunday sermons. He told me how much that means to him.
      Stay safe and well,

    2. This is a wonderful depiction of Bill. He was a dear and generous man and I received his blessing on more than one occasion. I was relatively new to Calvary and startled with Bill’s announcement that he was a “completed Jew”. What a lovely thought! He was so pleased to be not only that but an Episcopal priest. Except for the fact that he tell me there was no such thing as a vodka martini, he was a lovely man.

      1. Donna, glad you found this message true to Bill. Thanks for sharing his “completed Jew” description. And I understand his martinis with gin only were legendary! Love and Blessings, Paul

    1. Thanks, Eddie. I felt so blessed to know Bill. Perhaps all of us can do our part in keeping his spirit alive in the world. Love, Paul

    1. Thanks, Merrill Ann. It was therapeutic for me to write this. And thanks for giving us a heads up about Lyle Caldwell’s condition this week.
      Love and Blessings,

  2. I loved Bill and Sunny. They were our neighbors on Reese. Bill was more than a priest. He was a friend, a good listener, and one who enjoyed life and being a huge part of it. I will miss him tremendously.

  3. Thank you Paul for this memory of our dear Bill. Checking on each other is so important. I also wanted to thank you for facilitating the beautiful memorial zoom for Bill a few weeks ago. What a special event that was!

    1. You’re welcome, Mary. Glad the memorial zoom was meaningful and hopefully healing for you. Grace, peace, and love, Paul

  4. Thank you Paul fir this beautiful tribute to Bills life . He was one of my mentors in the Stephen ministry training and encouraged me so many times as well as made me feel like I was doing a good job in my mission. He was there for me too during the Cursillo. In the Grieving group he was such an inspiration as a patient listener.Bill was an important part of my spiritual growth at Calvary.I will always remember him with gratitude .🙏

    1. You’re welcome, Michele. Glad this post helped bring back your own fond memories of how Bill encouraged you and supported you on your spiritual journey. Grace, peace, and love, Paul

    1. You’re welcome, Connie. The last email I mentioned from him was about our pastoral care ministry with you and your family. I hope we can together tap into his spirit to find healing and hope in the days ahead. Love, Paul

  5. Paul , thanks for the tribute to Bill. You and Bill are very much alike in the most important ways. Calvary is blessed to have had you both.

    1. You’re welcome, Ed. I was blessed to know Bill. I hope we can keep his spirit alive in respecting, listening to, and offering support and encouragement to each other. Love, Paul

  6. Bill was indeed an encourager. Drew and I were lucky to go through pre-marriage counseling with him. We have used his wise insights and advice throughout our marriage of 21 years now. We will miss Bill dearly. He touched so many and lives on in so many people.

  7. Loved reading about Bill! I took several of his classes at Calvary. His Freidman’s Fable class was great! Melinda , his second wife, is from Covington where I grew up. She was younger than myself. Her sister, Susan, was my friend! So I remember Melinda as a little girl and am sorry for the loss of someone she loved so much! You are so gifted in Pastoral Care. We are so fortunate to have you at Calvary along with wonderful Ruthie!!!

  8. Paul you are an angel. What a soothing, peaceful tribute as Calvary family mourns Bill. May the Lord be with us all🙏🏽

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *