A gut punch.
That was the term my husband used as he made the announcement to our church family that our dear friend Chris Blair had died tragically in a motorcycle accident–and gut punch it was…on many levels.
We came to know Chris and his family when they moved to Huntsville to lead the college ministry at the Huntsville Church of Christ. When he arrived, the ministry (and the building in which it was housed) was still referred to as the Bible Chair. Chris understood that most of the college students at the time did not understand or connect to that “antiquated” term, and he was instrumental in changing it to the Kats for Christ, or KFC for short. As a marketing person, I remember asking him if he thought people would think it stood for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Chris said, “Well, either way, they’ll get fed!” referring to the many meals prepared for students each week, as well as spiritual nourishment. That’s just one example of Chris’ desire to make Jesus Christ as relevant and reachable as possible to anyone seeking to know Him.
Because I own an advertising agency and did quite a few things for the church, Chris and I worked together on several projects, like signage and promotional specialties. I came to have a great appreciation for his sense of design, and we often talked about our mutual love of great design (and our alma mater Abilene Christian University). One day, Chris called and asked if he could come by for a visit. He told me he was fascinated by the work I did, and especially what Wes and I chose to do with Postcards Magazine. He said, whether we realized it or not, we were “extending Kingdom in the marketplace.” I would hear that term a lot over the next few years and come to love it; but when I first heard it, I thought, “That is a ‘Chris way’ of saying ‘living your Christianity.’” He had a unique way of saying something ordinary in an extraordinarily different way which you would remember. During this conversation, he shared with me that he felt God calling him to do ministry in a different way. He knew the design skills and love of design he had was God-given, and he felt a pull to use it to “extend God’s kingdom in the marketplace.” Of course, in timing only God can orchestrate, Wes and I were in the middle of planning to launch the Lake Conroe edition of Postcards Magazine and knew we were going to need additional design help. Enter Chris Blair. For seven of the eight years we have published Postcards, Chris has been one of our designers. When both issues of our magazines became monthly editions, Chris took over as lead page designer and printing manager while Mary Partida handled the bulk of the customer advertising and working with our service reps. In fact, Mary said her favorite thing about Chris was, “No matter how silly or hard a question I had for him, he always knew the answer. Some of his answers were “out there,” but he never let me down. I will miss that.”
In the early years of production days (or “push days,” as we call them), Chris was usually here from 8:00 am until 10:00 pm or later. When he moved to Dallas, we knew we could work remotely, but for the first few months, he would drive to Huntsville and spend the night at our house, sleeping on the couch in our game room. Initially, it just made us all “feel better” to be in the same space together on that day. When we think of those days, Wes and I both have a favorite memory. I remember waking up early and seeing the light on in the game room. Thinking Chris was up and already working, I headed in to discuss what he was starting on, only to see he had his Bible in his lap and was praying. That’s how he always started his day, no matter how busy he was and how many things had to be done. It was a lesson for me. Wes’ favorite memory was a funny one. Our game room was once our garage, and there was a lock on the door on the house side between the rooms. Once when Chris was spending the night, nature called, and he needed to go to the restroom…except, somehow the door had gotten locked, and he couldn’t get to the rest of the house. He thought he might be able to just “go outside,” but knew the alarm system was set. He tried to call, but I had left my phone on the charger in the other room. In the end, he decided to trip the alarm. As Wes and I awoke to the alarm going off (and my heartbeat slowed), much laughter was had as to the reason why!
I asked other members of our Postcards family to share their favorite memory or favorite thing about working with Chris and I think their responses honor him and his desire of extending Kingdom in the marketplace. Marshall Altom said, “No matter how hard the task in front of him, he always carried himself and others around him with joy.” Natalie Thaggard said, “I remember him being 100 percent genuine all the time. My favorite thing was seeing his relationship with God through his work. He was always so kind and quick to lend a helping hand.”
Janet Jones said, “He had a knack for coming up with different and unique ads for our clients. He never ceased to amaze me with his special touches and perfection. I would tell him to work his magic, and he never disappointed.” I, too, often turned to Chris when I needed something “out of the box” or help getting to the “thing” that was in my head, but I couldn’t quite express. I would share bits of a description, and he could read me and turn out what I wanted. There are pieces of work Chris did you might be familiar with (and didn’t even know you were). Some of the designs he and I did together were the logo and brochure for the Boys & Girls Club’s recent capital campaign “Building Hope a Home,” the new logo for Walker County Federal Credit Union, the HISD Building Champions logo, and (one of our favorite and most fun to do) the CASA Parade of Playhouses logo.
One of the other people who worked with him as closely as I did was former production manager Kelly Lawson. Kelly said, “I was thinking this morning how he and I would often butt heads because we both wanted what was best for the product—but, we always got to the place where we understood we were basically on the same page. I never could stay upset with Chris. He had the most sincere and deep love and truest expression of his love of our Lord. He would share all of his knowledge and was willing to help promote the people in his life before himself. The few times I saw him with his children was like a living illustration of how I think our Heavenly Father loves us. The smile Chris had when talking about them, along with the wide-eyed interest in their lives, is rare in our times.”
There were a lot of things about Chris Blair that are rare in our world today. If you ever spent more than five minutes in conversation with him, you almost assuredly heard the word “AWESOME” or “SWEET!” Chris lived his life with a sense of purpose that centered on Jesus. He often said, “Hey, I’m just me. I’m not perfect, and I don’t have all the answers, but I know who does.” He once did a devotional video where he talked about Facebook and social media. He wanted us to just be real and stop trying to live life to mirror someone else’s “Facebook highlight reel,” because every one of us has real struggles. He would end those videos in typical Chris fashion by saying, “Hope you have an awesome day. Go in peace and serve the Lord.”
If you ever called him and got his voicemail, his message told you in his own upbeat way that he wasn’t available right now but “…Hey! Go be a blessing to someone today!” Chris Blair was certainly a blessing to me. He helped me become a more patient person. He helped us create a better magazine. He helped me remember to focus on what is most important in life. His creative spirit will live on in the work he has done, designs that will stand the test of time, and sayings that we will remember always. In the meantime, you will find us doing our best to extend the Kingdom in the marketplace. That would make him proud.