This past week, a truly legendary individual passed from this world into the glories of heaven. Luther Edward “Eddie” Slater, Jr. was someone well known and widely recognized all across the United States for his innovation and leadership in the fishing industry. Nearly every crappie angler I’ve met over the years, and it has been a large number of them, have had at least several cards of Slater’s Jigs in their tackle box.
Some fourteen years ago, Eddie and I sat down in his office at Slater’s in Indianola to talk about his ideas for a book on his family’s history in the Delta. Over the course of the next two years, we spent many hours in his office, him telling stories, me recording his words, and considering how to reduce his animated recollections without losing any of the human drama that flowed from him like Richard Burton playing King Lear on the historical stage of the Globe Theater in London. Every story he told brought tears of laughter or empathy. Historians claim that Abraham Lincoln possessed an endless flow of homespun stories from his experiences growing up in Kentucky and Illinois. While I can’t confirm that from personal experience (even at my age!), I can confirm just such a reality when it comes to Eddie Slater’s stories. They were endless, entertaining, and inspiring.
The book, Around the Bend and Up the River, not only tells the story of seven generations of the Slater family on or near the banks of the Sunflower River in Sunflower County, it tells the story of faith and family. The cover art for the book, masterfully done by Belzoni’s Eva Champion, is exactly the way Eddie said he wanted it to be. It tells the story of life. We all go up the river, fighting against the tide of life that is so often cruel and difficult to handle; and then we go around the bend. What lies around the bend? We don’t know until we make that last turn, but in the picture, the cross of Jesus Christ stands out, overwhelming the scene. Eddie said, “When you put your trust in the One who died on that cross, you don’t have to fear what’s around the bend. You already know that Jesus is there waiting on you.” Do you see why I wanted to write this book for my friend Eddie Slater?
Those who knew Eddie or had any dealings with him will all confirm the same conclusions about him. He was a man who loved his family dearly. His wife and mine have the same name, Dorothy. He called her Dot from the time of the very first date. Dot was his wife, the mother of his two children, Jimmy and Valina Gay, his business partner who worked right along beside him, and his very best friend and confidant. Their 62 years together is a goal every married couple ought to aim for. He loved his three grandchildren, Drew, Allen and Anna-Clara, and his two great grandchildren, JonHartley and Nate.
His former pastor, Gayden Harrell (a fellow student/friend of mine from our days at Brandon High School) and his current pastor, Bob Hill, officiated Eddie’s funeral service this past Sunday afternoon. These men, plus his longtime friend, Billy Johnson, all confirmed Eddie’s love for his family and also for his friends, of which we were a very small sampling. He was faithful to his friends, always there for us, always concerned for us, and would go beyond just asking how we were doing. He would dig deeper, and when he sensed the need, do something practical for us. He was a true and trusted friend.
Eddie was also a man of faith. He truly was a fisher of men. He was always ready, in season and out, to share his faith in Jesus, which faith proved to be genuine every day by his winsome smile, dedication to being a godly, moral and ethical man in all his relationships, and in the end, facing death, he said, “I’m tired and ready to go home.”
A seven-time Crappie Fishing Champion of Mississippi (he never mentioned but one of those to me!), one of the first class of inductees into the Mississippi Wildlife Heritage Museum, and designer of the world-famous Slater’s jigs, jig poles and reels, he has now gone up the river and around the bend. Those of us who are reading this are following in his wake. He has shown us the way to what lies around the bend and up the river, and I, for one, am looking forward to the day I see my friend and brother in Christ, Eddie Slater, once more. Eddie was born on June 19, 1935, and passed away last Thursday, February 15, 2018. He will remain legendary in my mind and heart, a humble servant of the Lord who would shun the legendary accolade and give all the glory to God.
Believing that one man’s witness in a small town in the Mississippi Delta could make such a huge impact on so many people’s lives may be a long shot for some of you, but…whatever you do, don’t be afraid to go with the long shots. Live life to the fullest every moment and be ready!
Rev. Richard Wiman is the pastor of First
Presbyterian Church in Belzoni and an
accomplished, much-published writer.
* Eddie Slater photo from ms-sportsman.com