In the early 1970s, I found myself struggling to make ends meet for my wife and new baby girl. Little did I know that God had great plans for my life and that one individual was waiting for the opportunity to set these plans in motion.
I was a high school graduate, but education was never really important to me. Because I was a Vietnam War veteran, benefits were available to me if I was enrolled in school. Since we needed money, I enrolled in Tri-County Technical College. While at Trinity County, God called me to the gospel ministry. It was not God’s will for me to leave school and pursue the normal course of training for ministers. I received an Associate’s Degree in Business. This degree enabled me to move from a production job to sales at the company for which I worked. This gave me more time to seek proper training for the ministry. At about the same time, North Greenville College opened an extension in downtown Greenville, South Carolina.
The idea of a college education was only a dream for me, but I made a visit to the downtown extension for information anyway. On that visit, I met S.C. Brissie for the first time. From that day on, I would call him Dean Brissie, as all who know him do.
Dean Brissie sized me up that day, in more ways that I knew. He began to talk to me in a way I had never been talked to before. He told me that God called me and with that call came a responsibility to prepare myself as God provided the opportunity. He explained to me the importance of education and how God could use it to enable me to have a more effective ministry. For the next two year, Dean Brissie encouraged me, bragged on me, lifted my spirit, boosted my self-esteem, and gave me hope.
While I was at North Greenville, he was my speech teacher. He knew my strengths and weaknesses and would go out of his way to help me. I was exposed to a good education at North Greenville College, but the greatest benefit during this time was learning so much about myself. Dean Brissie was always on the sidelines to cheer me on. We talked often in person and on the phone. It was not unusual for Dean Brissie to call me up just to chat. During these conversations he would encourage me and give me wonderful advice.
Being such a wise man, Dean Brissie knew that a pastor’s wife was an important part of the preacher’s ministry. He wanted to meet my wife. The next thing I knew, he had my wife, Wanda, enrolled in his speech class. This helped Wanda tremendously and changed her perspective on many things.
One day, I was sitting in Dean Brissie’s office talking with him about classes when he asked me what size coat I wore. I told him what size I thought I wore and he asked me to try on his coat. It was a perfect fit. He told me how good it looked on me and how important it was to dress properly for the ministry. Then he asked me if I would be offended if he gave me a few of his hand-me-downs that he had worn a time or two. Of course, I told him anything would be appreciated by this struggling young father who worked full-time and went to school as well.
After class one evening, I met Dean Brissie at his car. There in the trunk was a complete wardrobe. I had never seen so many beautiful shirts, matching ties, a nice suite, several sport coats, pants, belts, a coat, socks and anything else you could imagine, and most of the items were practically new. I did not know what to say. Dean Brissie took pride in showing me how these clothes could best help my ministry.
For the next 17 years of my ministry, Dean Brissie would call me at least once a year. He would inquire about my latest ministry endeavors. Always during the conversation he would offer more clothes and would always say, “If you are not offended,” Because of Dean Brissie’s generosity, I have dressed for Sunday as well as any pastor anywhere and better than many. It is not uncommon for people to comment on my tie or how nice my coat looks.
I graduated from North Greenville College with a two-year degree in 1980. Three months after graduation, God called me to be the pastor of a new mission started by the Piedmont Baptist Association. Dean Brissie called me at this time, once again, to encourage me, and told me that as my ministry grew, I would need to grow as well. Then he asked if I had thought about furthering my education. Well, as always, he had a plan in mind. The next thing I knew, I was enrolled at Furman University. Since Dean Brissie was a Furman graduate, he was very pleased. As a bi-vocational pastor, father of two, with a full-time job, and a student at Furman, I had my hands full. Dean Brissie was there with calls and letters of encouragement and as always providing me with hand-me-downs.
The mission I pastored constituted into full autonomous church in 1985. Dean Brissie was at the constitution service. Of all the Associational and State representatives recognized that day, I was more proud to have him in attendance than anyone else. I knew he cared about me, my family, and my ministry.
After several years of struggling with six hours a semester as a sociology major at Furman, I became discouraged and very tired. I had to take a break from school for a while. Dean Brissie never stopped encouraging me. The calls and the land-me-downs still kept coming.
As my ministry and church grew, I was able to once again think about returning to school. It was not too long after this that North Greenville began a four-year program with a religion major. I had no problem convincing Dean Brissie that this was what I needed. It took me four year at six hours a semester, but I graduated in May of 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in religion.
Not long after my graduation, I got a call from Dean Brissie. Once again he offered his encouragement and hand-me-downs, if I would not be offended. I sat in Dean Brissie’s home not too long after that and discussed the long journey I had just traveled. I knew education was on his mind, but I was physically and mentally exhausted. When I told him I was going to take a break, he once again showed his great wisdom and insight and agreed that a break was a good idea. He has always been able to discern a person spiritual and mental condition.
I have not spoken to Dean Brissie in almost a year. When I do talk to him again, I will tell him I am praying about the possibility of doing some graduate work at one of our seminary extensions. I would not be surprised to hear him suggest the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary extension at North Greenville College.
I do not have the words to describe the impact that S.C. Brissie has made on my life, family, and ministry. I just know that God has used this gifted and caring man to move my life in a positive direction. I also know that my life is not the only one God has touched through this wonderful person.
Written by Rev. George Tate (’80, B.A. ’96) for the September 1997 issue of the North Greenville College Alumni Newsletter.