Goodbye to a Mentor

Last week’s Musing revolved around friendship and the precious relationships we enjoy with other people. This week, my husband and I heard of the death of someone who was more than a friend to us; he was also a mentor.

Dr. Garth Coonce, along with his wife Tina, may she live and be well, opened their hearts to us along with the TV studios that they built for the TCT network that they founded. Close to two decades ago, after inviting us to be guests on one of the station’s shows, they flew us back for what we thought was another guest appearance. Imagine our shock when they showed us a set that they had built for the Ancient Jewish Wisdom TV show where, rather than being guests, we were to become the hosts. In the ensuing years, we have taped over five hundred half-hour episodes of our show.

I find it difficult to adequately describe what a courageous step that was. A Christian TV network was investing its resources and reputation in creating and marketing a show hosted by an Orthodox Jewish rabbi and his wife. No other similar network has ever done anything like that. Happily, it paid off as our Ancient Jewish Wisdom show continues to air three times a day on the network and generates a great deal of fan mail.

Dr. and Mrs. Coonce set the pattern for their family and employees. Everyone we met felt they were part of a ministry rather than holding down a job. The Coonces did everything possible to make us comfortable. We started our TCT career taping in Marion, IL, where the closest kosher restaurant was two hours away. The studio stored containers for us with food, cutlery, and other paraphernalia so that we could most comfortably eat while we were there. After some years, production was moved to their studio in Akron, OH, near Cleveland which has a number of kosher restaurants. Every single time we were there taping, the studio sent a gracious gentleman to drive an hour-long round trip each day so that we could enjoy a hot lunch as well as have food for dinner. In the break-room, they put a microwave for our exclusive use.

Here is another example that demonstrates the exquisite sensitivity that Garth and Tina Coonce instilled in their team. When our relationship started, we explained that we prefer not to hug or even shake hands with members of the opposite sex, outside of our family. Preparing to record includes fiddling with clothes for the placement of on-body microphones that also often need adjustments. From day one, without us ever having heard any directive, there was always a female and a male assistant on hand for us, even if it meant pulling someone away from their assigned job.

We had fewer opportunities than we would have liked to share time with the Coonces. They were busy traveling between studios and stations, taping their own shows, and overseeing the international TCT network. Every time we did get to sit down together, we benefited from their wisdom and from observing their loving interactions.

Dr. Coonce’s passing is a loss for his family, for America, and for the world at large. He was a visionary who, with the network he built, improved the lives of millions of people, helping them to connect with God. My husband and I both feel that the passing of Garth Coonce has also made our personal world feel a lot lonelier.

What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this Susan’s Musings post.
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