H. A. Dixon (1904-1969) was a faithful Christian, husband, father, teacher, song leader, writer, preacher of the gospel and, for the last twenty years of his life (1950-1969), he was the president of Freed-Hardeman College in Henderson, Tennessee.
He was born in Delrose, Tennessee, a community in the south-central part of the state near the Alabama border. During a series of gospel meetings there in 1918, in which J. W. Brents was the evangelist, Dixon made the confession of his faith in Jesus as the Son of God and was baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of sins. He was 13.
In those days it was normal for these soul-saving efforts to continue for as long as fifteen days, extending over three Sundays. There were meetings each night and usually also during the weekday mornings from Monday through Friday.
Sometimes congregations did not have regular preaching through the year, and for them these daily and nightly meetings were an intensive learning experience. The meetings were remarkable efforts to save the lost, to restore those who had fallen away, and to teach and encourage even the most faithful Christians.
A Successful Meeting
H.A. Dixon was happy in his new life as a Christian. But something hurtful happened to him on the closing night of that gospel meeting. After the closing prayer, as the congregation went out onto the front lawn, visiting with one another and enjoying the fellowship, he overheard some of the men talking:
“This gospel meeting was a failure.” “Only one addition to the church.” “And that was just a boy!” “We won’t use that preacher again.”
Dixon said, “I thought the gospel meeting was a success. My soul was saved!”
In later years Dixon taught and coached near his home community. In 1929 he married Louise Cowan. He began preaching in Memphis in 1935 and gained much experience at the Union Avenue church, leading the singing and working with G. C. Brewer. Through the years he was the regular preacher for a number of churches. He preached in numerous evangelistic efforts in America and abroad.
In addition to his earned academic degrees, he was awarded honorary doctorates from Harding and Pepperdine. Yet, I do not remember his ever being addressed as Dr. Dixon.
He became president of Freed-Hardeman College during the crisis of 1950. N. B. Hardeman had been with the college since it began in 1908 (except for the two years 1923-1925). He had been president for a quarter century when the board terminated his presidency in 1950. Most of the students had left during that spring quarter, but when Dixon became president, the college recovered quickly.
Very soon after my wife and I moved to Henderson, Tennessee in the summer of 1959, where Nedra was to set up an art department for the college, we were surprised and honored by a visit from the Dixons. During their visit he said, “When we moved to Henderson in 1950 we received the coldest reception we ever received anywhere.” The Dixons were doing their part to be certain that we and others didn’t have the same bad experience.
Freed-Hardeman was then a two-year college. President Dixon set up a third year program for Bible majors that meant much to him. When the accrediting association tried to tell him he couldn’t have that third year program, he refused to give it up. An agreement was reached as to where and how that program would be listed in the college catalog.
President Dixon felt the stress of his job. I was saddened when he told me once that he had gone three days and nights without being able to go to sleep even for a minute. Raising the money to finance the building of a new science center seemed to be especially difficult.
One afternoon when the school was having a picnic at nearby Chickasaw State Park, the students sang, “I know the Lord will make a way for me….” I was surprised when he told me, “I like that song!” I had expected his musical tastes to be more classical, but he appreciated that song’s simple statement of trust in the caring providence of God.
Every October, in the college chapel assembly, Dixon recited the poem “Old October” about his favorite month—except for the last October of his life. He suffered a heart attack during the first week of November, 1969. He was taken to the hospital in nearby Jackson, Tennessee, where he died Saturday morning, November 8. He was 65.
President Dixon maintained what was called his “open door policy.” His office door was literally always open. This meant he was approachable on any matter at any time. But it also meant that he was not to be approached by a petition or in any other way. Following his heart attack, as I walked down the hall by his office, it was such a strange experience to me to see his door closed for the first time.