COVID Takes the Life of an Idaho Christian Warrior
J. Pat Branch is dead. He was 73. I’m not sure he would’ve appreciated me calling him a legend. A devout Christian, he may have viewed the description as idolatry. From the perspective of being a warrior for Christ, Branch was a legend. He settled in Idaho and carried on a ministry, working with athletes. As a rodeo chaplain and a chaplain for the National Football League.
He was a big man. Imagine John Wayne or James Arness as an evangelist. It got your attention and fast. He could also size up others. We first met when he was a guest on my program and I could tell he knew I was a restless soul.
J. Pat Branch made an impression on the athletes he met. He was godfather to the children of Hall of Fame tackle Jackie Slater.
Before he entered the ministry, he was a decorated soldier in Vietnam. He once told a reporter that he joined the Army to “fight commies”. He fought them overseas and I still wonder what he thought about so many of them now serving in American politics! On four occasions he was aboard choppers shot down in less than three months. He was awarded a Bronze Star and earned three Purple Hearts. He had numerous other decorations.
J. Pat Branch made an impression on the athletes he met. He was godfather to the children of Hall of Fame tackle Jackie Slater. We also discovered we had a mutual friend. Larry Bauer is a former tight end and rodeo star who became a radio consultant. It’s a small world!
I recall being at a National Day of Prayer event and looking out over the crowd. I saw massive shoulders on a fellow who stood head and shoulders above others. Even more so with his ever-present Stetson atop his head. Sometimes I would encounter him grocery shopping. Always friendly but always serious. He knew his mission.
For the last several weeks he was on a ventilator. He was vaccinated against COVID. I mention this because a few weeks ago I had to write a similar story about the death of Coach Pete Coulson. The coach also used sports as a means to minister. I wrote that he had told me he was vaccinated in Christ. Liberals and the godless took this to mean he was a superstitious man who somehow believed God would protect him from the ravages of disease. They somehow missed the follow-up sentence. “He didn’t fear death,” I wrote. At no point did I even say he hadn’t been vaccinated. The news media simply jumped to a conclusion backed by a stereotype of Christians.
I’m telling you right now, I greatly respect and admire how Branch and Coulson lived their lives. Fearless warriors. Men filled with faith. Ready to accept death and live as an example for others. I’m also confident that though a few, more will follow their lead.