By SARAH MCLAUGHLIN
To live is Christ:
The life and legacy of Dr. Joseph Cole
For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain,” the Apostle Paul wrote in Philippians, and everyone who knew Dr. Joseph “Joe” Cole would say those words could have easily been his.
Although Dr. Cole was many things — a son, father, husband, mentor, coach and friend — he never failed to show God’s love to everyone in his life before he passed away suddenly on May 21 at age 58. Today his legacy survives in the hearts of his family and everyone who knew him, including those who worked alongside him at Hartfield Academy, where he served as athletic director.
Hartfield’s Head of School, David Horner, first met Dr. Cole as a senior in high school; Horner remembers how Dr. Cole faithfully mentored and encouraged him to play basketball for God’s glory. One summer, Dr. Cole invited Horner on a basketball mission trip, and over the years, the two went on more than 12 mission trips together — to places like India, Taiwan, Argentina, Guatemala, Jamaica and Iraq — where they shared the gospel through sports.
Horner reflected on how Dr. Cole impacted his life: “My testimony is that he taught me to use God’s passions in my life for God’s glory. And along the way, he continued to remind me that it’s God’s favor — not man’s favor — that should be sought. And that’s how he lived.”
For Horner and so many others, Dr. Cole showed the humility of Christ in everything he did by making his colleagues feel deeply valued and worthy of Christ’s love.
This is especially true for Jake Benton, Hartfield soccer coach, who fondly remembers Dr. Cole as much more than an athletic director; for Benton, Dr. Cole was a mentor, coach, friend, guide, and even at times a car mechanic. Benton explained that Dr. Cole would “put down anything and he would focus on the person in front of him” to show that he genuinely cared.
In every way, Dr. Cole was an example of patience, humility, prudence and inspiration for Benton. He remembers how he often walked into Dr. Cole’s office for advice, and that “every time I walked away from talking with him, I was inspired … not motivated, because motivation dies, but inspired.”
Coach Jeff McFerran not only worked alongside Dr. Cole but lived in the same neighborhood and came to Hartfield Academy in the same summer. McFerran vividly remembers how much he felt the presence of the Lord the first time he met Dr. Cole: “When you saw Joe, you were getting a glimpse of what we should all be like.” McFerran remembers his friend’s servant heart and hospitality, but also his genuine and sincere faith, and how Dr. Cole had “a wonderful knack for making people laugh” with his dry sense of humor.
Hartfield students also fondly remember Dr. Cole. A recent graduate, Anderson Crechale, explains, “He consistently took time to help me with basketball and to check on my spiritual growth. He never ceased to help others in whatever way he could to fulfill God’s will.”
Another student, Harlee Grace Sensing, says, “Dr. Cole showed me what it means to put others ahead of self … I knew at the time I was learning to be a better basketball player, but I didn’t realize until after he passed that I was actually learning what it means to model Christ.”
Not only for these students but for so many others, Dr. Cole lived a lifestyle that saw everyone as Christ sees them.
There are no words to describe the legacy Dr. Cole left behind or the profound impact he had for Christ’s glory, yet his memory and legacy continue in the hearts of all who knew him. As Coach Benton says, “I know without a doubt he is singing praises to the Lord right now — he’s completely satisfied and made whole.”
Having left a legacy full of the Holy Spirit, Dr. Joseph Cole will rest forever with our Savior to whom he dedicated his life.
Sarah McLaughlin is a junior at Mississippi College, and plans to graduate with a B.A. in English education. She attends Pinehaven Presbyterian Church in Clinton. You’ll often find her reading, listening to vinyl records, and drinking coffee.