My friend Jim Wilson, the chaplain at Regional Medical Center, recently told me how Bolton had influenced him. Bolton called Wilson aside one day and told him he wanted to show him how to minister to those who were too sick to speak. Wilson followed Bolton up to the intensive care unit where Bolton stood silently in the doorways of the sickest patients.
Wilson said that Bolton told him “patients can behold you if you stand before their doors. Your presence will bless them.” Wilson knew he was “listening to a wise man.”
When he died, Bolton was 92 years old. In his latter years, he had been too weak to walk through the hospital corridors where often he had prayed with patients, family members, and staff. It was a labor of love he assumed for more than 30 years. Because of his physical weakness of late, one of his 14 children would drive him to the hospital where he would simply sit in the lobby of the third floor. People would come to him.
“It’s as if they kissed his ring,” said Wilson, referring to the way Catholics showed respect to the pope. “He had a wonderful way with people.”
Elaine Overstreet, a social worker at RMC for the past 32 years, agreed with Wilson.
“He made himself available to anyone who needed him,” she said. “He was a sweet man, and he devoted a few hours every day to being a chaplain.”
Bolton was never a paid chaplain, but he was not happy if he missed even a day at RMC, according to his daughter Carol Bush. She cared for her father during the eight years he lived beyond his wife Marion’s died in 2004.
Bolton moved to Anniston as a small child from his native home in Coweta County, Georgia. Through the years, he studied theology at Carver Bible Institute in Atlanta and was a part-time minister at Mt. Cleveland Baptist Church in Talladega for 28 years. He worked at Leslie Furniture Company in Anniston and later worked at Sawyer’s Office Supplies for 31 years. During that time, the Pine Grove Baptist Church of Sylacauga called him to perform full-time pastoral duties. His last sermon was on May 2, 2010, marking more than 50 years at Pine Grove in either a full- or part-time capacity as pastor. Bush said that even after giving up his ministry in Sylacauga, Bolton preached often in Anniston and visited many churches. He especially loved Mt. Liberty Baptist Church in the Central City area of West Anniston, which he had attended as a child. It was in his work at the hospital, though, where he came into contact with thousands.
“My daddy adored his relationship with everybody at the hospital,” said Bush.
Overstreet said the staff members at RMC were often the ones who especially needed the encouragement Bolton provided.
“He was the most approachable person I’ve ever known,” she said. She was asked to speak at his funeral and remarked, among other things, that Bolton “had a broad smile, a listening ear, kind words, and thoughtful prayers.”
During the interviews I conducted, all three spoke of the colorful suits Bolton often wore. Also, Bush said that each year his congregation would celebrate his anniversary with a different color theme. Bolton’s children made sure their parents had clothing to match it.
“He thought a minister ought to look like a minister,” said Bush, “and he thought that he ought to carry himself well. He instilled that in his children.”
Bush, through tears, said her father called her into his bedroom not long before he died and thanked her for the care she had given him.
“‘I won’t be around much longer,’” he told her.
Bolton and Marion had more than 45 grandchildren. He lived long enough to see some of his great-great-grandchildren, and his Christian light will likely shine for generations to come.
Calhoun County needs more heroes like the Rev. Steve Bolton.
Email Sherry at firstname.lastname@example.org