Story of lost Bible ends well for BLET member Pat Lynch

Post date: Jan 26, 2015 4:56:02 PM

(The following story by Lela Garlington appeared on the Memphis Commercial Appeal website on September 13, 2009. Pat Lynch is Legislative Representative of BLET Division 446 in Belen, N.M.)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Years ago, on an empty locomotive in New Mexico, an engineer and his co-worker found an old Bible that had been left behind.

When no one claimed it after a week in the railroad yard''''s lost and found, Pat Lynch took the tattered and torn book to his home in Bluewater Lake, N.M.

"I just wanted to make sure it got back to the family somehow. This is somebody''''s heritage. I just couldn''''t let that go," said Lynch, who is part Cheyenne. He was determined to find the owner who had written "Robert W. Childress ''''81."

What began as a simple gesture in early 1994 -- when his hair was darker and his build was slimmer -- turned into a 15-year journey.

Now 50, with his silver hair pulled back into a tiny ponytail, Lynch ended his odyssey in Memphis -- 1,124 miles away from his New Mexico home.

Lynch and his wife, Barbie, met the Childress family this weekend in Memphis, as the family learned in detail about his personal quest to find them.

Lynch knew that only railroad workers or contract laborers rode the Santa Fe freight train that carried coal from the mines in the Gallup, N.M., area to the power plant near Tucson, Ariz.

He talked with power-plant personnel. He checked with the railroad and his union. He enlisted the help of friends, family members, union colleagues and even a presidential campaign worker he met in Iowa.

Lynch mailed Christmas cards to anyone with the last name of Childress or Powell living in Murray, Ky., because of a bookmark left in the Bible. Once he found a man in Missouri with the right name but no missing Bible. He sent out mass e-mails. He convinced a television show history detective to take up the search.

At times, he gave up in frustration and tucked the Bible in the back of his desk drawer. In October 2007, he said he told himself he wasn''''t doing this again, he was giving up.

But then he met a presidential campaign worker in Iowa who went to Murray State University in Kentucky. He picked up the Bible and searched some more.

In late August, Lynch''''s cousin, Margaret Howard, typed in the name "Robert W. Childress" onto an Internet search engine. An obituary popped up from The Commercial Appeal. Howard called Dynesa Coburn of Memphis and left her a message: "I think we may have found your family Bible."

The news shocked Coburn and her two sisters, Pam Cummins of Cordova and Connie Shiodo of Chicago.

"I was stunned," Coburn recalled of that first phone call to her Memphis home. "I didn''''t even know there was a Bible out there."

Their brother was a free spirit who had traveled throughout the West. For a time, he lived in Tucson -- not far from the power plant. He died last year in Colorado. The family thinks that their mother must have given their brother the Bible before she died in 1986.

They also suspect he may have been a contract worker when he left the book on the train.

Their brother was named after their grandfather, Robert W. Childress Sr. Their grandfather moved from Kentucky to Memphis in the late 1960s after his wife died.

Because he was flying into Kansas City, Mo., for a conference, Lynch decided to fly in earlier into Nashville and then drive to Memphis to meet Coburn and Cummins. He shipped the Bible in advance of his arrival. Because of a mix-up, the Bible was sent by priority mail instead of overnight. Cummins feared it might get lost again.

The package arrived in her East Memphis office on the Friday before Labor Day. Gently, she peeled away the bubble wrap and opened the Ziploc bag. The two-and-a-half-inch-thick Bible was being held together by a few threads left in binding. There on the pages listing her family''''s history was her grandmother''''s distinctive penmanship. The Bible was published in 1905. Her grandmother, Carleen Vaughn, was born in 1896. As a 16-year-old bride, Vaughn married Robert W. Childress Sr.

"Tears came to my eyes," Cummins said. "It was so emotional simply because of the day." It arrived on Sept. 4 -- the first anniversary of her brother''''s death. On her phone, she sent Lynch a text message: "Robert''''s Bible is home."

When he saw the text, Lynch was driving to his evening leather-design class. He pulled over on the side of the road overcome with emotions.

"I was just so relieved," he said.

The family is grateful to see the familiar cursive handwriting of their grandmother. They are even more in awe of a man who would spend 15 years trying to return a family Bible they didn''''t know existed. Cummins plans on buying a shadow box and opening the Bible to the pages of the family''''s history. She wants to put her grandmother''''s wire rim glasses in the box.

"We are eternally grateful that he never gave up," Cummins said. "Pat called it the lost Childress family Bible. It''''s not lost anymore."

For Lynch, he said, "It gives me closure. It was like Robert was a part of my family. We now can say ''''The End'''' to this Bible quest."