A true love story
JEFFERSON CITY – Within minutes of meeting her, Burnell Lewis knew he wanted to marry Margie Livingston.
It was 1937, and the two were students at Southwest Baptist College, now Southwest Baptist University, in Bolivar. Burnell had seen Margie talking with another student and had asked someone to introduce them. Before the conversation was over, he informed her that she was the future Mrs. Burnell Lewis.
The two began dating. After graduation, Burnell taught school at Fremont and drove 155 miles to Jefferson City to see Margie on weekends.
Burnell was drafted into the Army in 1941. They wrote for a while but then lost contact with each other. After a time, she met and married John Robert Estes, and they established a home in Jefferson City.
At one point, Burnell, who still had feelings for Margie, called to see how she was doing. It was then that he learned she was married.
The next few months were tough for Burnell. “It was terrible for me when I found out she was married,” he said. “I was really in horrible shape.
“One night, I told the Lord, ‘I can’t preach and be in love with a married woman. You say You can heal the broken hearted. If You want me to preach, You’re going to have to take care of this.’
“The next morning, I woke up and I could pray for Margie and her husband.”
Over the years, he would hear occasionally of Margie and John Robert, who were happily married and the parents of three children.
He completed his military service in 1946 and became a teacher, preacher and evangelist, earning three master’s degrees along the way. His evangelistic ministry flourished.
One year, while Lewis was living with his dad at Ellington, Mo., he was invited to speak at London’s prestigious Spurgeon’s Tabernacle. He stopped in Jefferson City on his way to catch a plane in Kansas City.
Walking along High Street, he ran into Margie Estes, whom hadn’t seen in 32 years. Margie had gone on to become secretary to Warren E. Hearnes when he was Speaker of the House, along with other successes.
He asked about her family and, finally, about her husband. She told him John Robert had died two years earlier. With a plane to catch, he couldn’t stay long, so he got right to the point. “You know you’re going to marry me, don’t you?” he asked. “Be a preacher’s wife?” she replied. “Yeah, a preacher’s wife,” he answered.
Burnell stopped to see Margie when he got back from London and, on that occasion, met her daughter, Danna Berry. “I’m going to marry your mother,” he told her, and encouraged her to begin adjusting to the idea. Within two years, the kids – and Margie – had made the adjustment.
On December 26, 1974, Burnell Lewis married his college sweetheart. He was 56 and Margie was 53. “I always knew I was going to get married,” he says. “ I had girlfriends, but I never got serious with any of them. I was afraid of being hurt again.”
In the 32 years that Burnell and Margie have been husband and wife, two of Margie’s children have succumbed to the same condition that took the life of their father, daughter Danna Berry, and son, John Robert, Jr., known as J Bob.
Her remaining daughter, Laurie Stokes, lives in Atlanta. While Burnell never had children of his own, he takes pleasure in being a grandparent to Margie’s grandchildren.
In 1999, Burnell was awarded an honorary doctorate at Southwest Baptist University. When he took the podium, he told the audience, “Margie and I, in 1937, walked up to this building and held hands. Today, we walked up the steps and held each other up.”
Today, at ages 90 and 87, Burnell and Margie live in Jefferson City. Their home is adorned with pictures of the grandchildren and J Bob’s artwork. The coffee is perked and waiting for visitors. And Burnell is testifying to Proverbs 18:22 – “Whoso finds a wife finds a good thing.”