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2011 John Park Lee Award

Honoring, posthumously, the Rev. Dr. A. David Bos

Accepted by the Rev. Dr. Johanna W.H. van Wijk-Bos

by Bethany Furkin
Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. A. David Bos

The Rev. A. David Bos.

John Park Lee, for whom this award is named, was a leader in the Presbyterian Church in the areas of health and welfare. It was with his guidance that the Presbyterian Health, Education and Welfare Association (PHEWA) was founded and achieved its current vision. Lee was a leader in organizing for justice, and he pushed for national Presbyterian standards of quality in neighborhood centers, homes for the aging, institutional chaplains, children’s homes and health services.

He was truly committed to a lifetime of prophetic ministry and justice.

The same can be said for the late Rev. Dr. A. David Bos.

“We have lost a dear friend and colleague whose vision and courage have expanded our movement far beyond what we would have been able to do without him,” reads a statement from PHEWA.

In researching David’s life for this presentation, one thing became very clear: he was an inspiration to many, many people.

David was very active in PHEWA, serving as co-chair of their Presbyterian Association for Community Transformation (PACT).  He was a cofounder of the Louisville Metropolitan Housing Coalition and a founder of the national Interfaith Community Ministry network.

Of late, his efforts for social change saw him deeply involved in the movement for a single payer health care program as a member of Kentuckians for Single Payer Healthcare, and he was helping to spearhead a campaign for divestment from for-profit health care companies.

In 2009, he and other members of Kentuckians for Single Payer Healthcare staged a 24-hour sit-in at the Humana Building here in Louisville. 

“There are two tiers of health care,” he said in an interview with WLKY News. “One’s for those that can afford the excellent health care that’s available here and the others who can’t.”

It was that concern for those in the margins, society’s most vulnerable, that seems to be a defining aspect of David’s legacy.

In a memorial she wrote about David, Lisa Larges, minister coordinator of That All May Freely Serve, calls him a man with the “soul of a poet and the heart of a prophet. The two flowed together in a kind of serene loveliness – David, as I knew him, was gracious and easy, thoughtful in what he did and even more so in what he said. That serene gentle manner might suggest a placidity. But David Bos was anything but. He worked tirelessly – with a ferocity, a passion, and a determination that never let up.”

That determination and commitment to justice was evident in David’s advocacy work for single-payer healthcare.

With his friends Hal Sanders and Bebb Stone, David led the effort to successfully overture the 218th General Assembly (2008) of the PC(USA) to support and advocate for single payer health care. 

That G.A. directed the General Assembly Council to “advocate for, educate about, and otherwise pursue the goal of obtaining legislation that enacts single-payer, universal national health insurance as the program that best responds to the moral imperative of the gospel.”

At David’s funeral service, Kay Tillow, his friend and colleague at Kentuckians for Single Payer Health Care spoke more about the 2008 overture and what it meant for the church:

“That act unleashed a world of people of good will and a tiny sum of money to hold single payer seminars across the country,” she said.

David used the money designated by the overture to lift up the movement from Albany, NY, to San Diego, from Chicago to Oregon, from Philadelphia to southern Indiana.

In 2009, David and Rob Stone found a new way to lift the movement.

Citing the successful campaign in South Africa to end apartheid by asking individuals and organizations to withdraw their investments, David developed a plan for divesting from for-profit health insurance companies.

In the months and weeks before David was hospitalized, he provided major planning and organization for a nationwide divestment campaign for single payer. This effort asks individuals, faith groups, universities and all institutions to withdraw their investments from for-profit health insurance companies because of the inherently unethical nature of gaining profit by denying coverage and care. 

He developed the first statement, approved by the session at Central Presbyterian Church, and was taking the process through the levels of the PC(USA) when he died.

“We love David, honor his memory, and pledge to win the cause to which he gave his wisdom, energy, skills and his final years. Health care as a human right in this nation, implemented through legislation, will be his legacy,” Tillow said at the funeral service.

But David wasn’t all work. He was a devoted husband to Dr. Johanna Bos, to whom he was married for almost 45 years.

He was a loving father to their son Martin, to their daughter-in-law Kim, and doted on their granddaughter Emma. He cared deeply for the two children of his first marriage, Julianne Zinn and Stephen Van Kuiken, took great pleasure in his grandchildren, and was a faithful brother to Tom and Phillip Bos.

David loved Bach, and in honor of his memory, his friends Courtney Hoekstra and Kate Davidson played Bach during the prelude at their recent wedding.

In a dedication she presented at his funeral, Courtney described the friend she knew as a writer who was never satisfied with his own poetry, who insisted on playing his favorite music for dinner guests and who was never afraid of a second helping of dessert.

“I heard his laugh; I could see his smiling eyes. And I thought about the times we sat together in church, hearing his earnest singing,” Courtney said. “I remembered the last time I saw David, as we stepped out of the pew and he turned and said to Kate and me in what I somehow knew was a sacred moment, “How about a hug?”

David was a writer, a poet, a fierce reader.

In his lifetime, he wrote two books — A Practical Guide to Community Ministry and Bound Together: A Theology for Ecumenical Community Ministry. He was working on a third, about fair housing for the disenfranchised, tentatively titled Sheltering the People.

Martha Kenney, who worked with David at St. Matthews Area Ministries in the late 1970s and early 1980s, remembers David as a “kind, positive, supportive” man who loved to play tennis, had a great sense of humor and wasn’t easily flustered.

David gave Martha her first job, and dug her out of many holes, she says. She recalled one time when she organized a fundraiser for the youth services department — a movie night with tickets being sold to many conservative congregations. The movie she chose to play? The dark-humor cult classic Harold and Maude.  But David stayed calm and collected, and didn’t fire her.

“He was the best first boss anyone could have,” Martha says. “He let me make mistakes.”

David had a good sense for working with churches with different personalities, and he was one of the movers and shakers in getting community ministries organized into a national model, with national conferences.

He got his start with community ministries in New York, where he also served congregations in Olean and Rochester. He was the founder of Smith Haven Ministries on Long Island, which was one of the country’s first community ministries.

While at Smith Haven, David worked with and befriended the Rev. Hugh Nevin, who was working as a campus minister.

Hugh recalls David’s steadfast stance on whatever social or justice issue he was tackling, whether it was affordable housing or teen drug use.

“He just dug in and worked away,” Hugh says. “He was always absolutely fearless.”

Hugh also remembers David’s openness to hearing new ideas and suggestions. While others might write off differing or unique opinions, David was committed to listening and following up. That’s a lesson Hugh says he still draws on today.

When his wife, Johanna, accepted a position at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, they moved to Louisville. He began serving at St. Matthews Area Ministries and Interfaith Community Ministry in New Albany, Indiana.

David was a co-founder of the Louisville Metropolitan Housing Coalition, which uses research, community education and collaboration-building to advocate for sound housing policies.

He was also a founder of the Interfaith Community Ministry network, a national network of ecumenical and interfaith community ministries that provides a link for mutual support, leadership development, and promotion of community-based, cooperative ministry.

The son of Eunice I. and Alvin D. Bos, David was born in Holland, Mich. He attended Holland High School and earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. He received his Bachelor of Divinity degree at Union Theological Seminary in New York and was a Fulbright Scholar in The Netherlands. He earned his master’s degree from St. Bonaventure University in St. Bonaventure, NY. He received his Doctorate of Sacred Theology from San Francisco Theological Seminary in 1981.

The John Park Lee Award is PHEWA’s highest honor, and David Bos was truly deserving of this award. Receiving it on his behalf is his wife, Johanna Bos.