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I Was Canright's Secretary
by Carrie Johnson

Page 126

14. Mr. Canright and His Friends

MR. CANRIGHT worked off and on during the rest of the winter months. He frequently took the trolley to his home in Grand Rapids. While he now had no desire to remain there, he did need to look after the place. He became irregular in his office hours, and some days failed to show up at all. This irritated Mr. Cornell, because I came to the office faithfully each day only to find he was not there, and Mr. Cornell was well aware that I could have been gainfully employed at the library.

Cornell was a man of moods and speedy action. He demanded reasons of Mr. Canright for his irregular behavior. His explanation again drew our sympathy, and we were ready to overlook the inconvenience he caused us.

Canright explained how much he needed money. Among other things, he needed money for trolley fare to his home at Grand Rapids as well as money to visit his daughters and grandson in Hillsdale. Besides these relatives he had a brother, Jasper, in Urbandale, a suburb of Battle Creek, and other relatives here and there; and though trolley fare was only a nickel, nickels were hard to come by in those days. I remember that Mr. Canright had some copies of Elder J. E. White's books Gospel Primer and Best Stories From the Best Book, besides Bibles, which were left over from his wife's former canvassing, and these he had been selling from door to door to help make ends meet.

I asked him one day why he didn't canvass in Grand Rapids and

live at home. He replied, "I'm a Baptist in Grand Rapids.

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These books do not have so ready a sale there as in Battle Creek. Battle Creek is stuffed with Adventists. They are the people who buy these books and Bibles."

As time went on his financial needs became increasingly acute. This concerned both his former Adventist brethren and others in Battle Creek who knew him.

One day in late April that year Mr. Cornell told me he had counseled with Drs. Kellogg and Stewart, and that the money had been raised to send Mr. Canright to Lincoln, Nebraska, to connect with a group of ex-Adventists by whom he was well known. As I remember they were publishing a paper titled The Gathering Call, which was devoted in part to attacking Adventist doctrines. Apparently it was hoped that he would fit into their scheme of things. Mr. Canright didn't seem pleased with this move, but due to his impecunious situation there was nothing he could do but conform to the wishes of those upon whom he was largely dependent.

Mr. Cornell, relieved of his burden, sent me to work for the Good Health Publishing Company. Everyone was happy, but not for long. Very soon I received a proposal for marriage. I wasn't interested, but the suitor was so insistent that one day I got up from my desk, walked out, and went back to Cornell's school. On the way there I wondered what I was going to tell Mr. Cornell. When I met him I said, "I guess I got fired and came back."

Mr. Cornell grabbed his telephone and called the supervisor of the department where I had been working, and after a heated conversation turned to me and said with all the earnestness at his command, "Now what am I going to do with you? Aren't you ever going to say Yes, when a man asks to marry you?" Considering the frame of mind I was then in I wasn't about to accept a proposal for marriage from any man.

Just at that moment we heard familiar footsteps on the long stairway. We recognized them as Mr. Canright's. This momentary interruption broke the tension, and I went to the assembly room to pick up some odds and ends I had left in my desk, fully expecting to be dismissed from school. But on my way out, Mr. Cornell called me to his office. I learned that

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Mr. Canright had just returned from Lincoln. He was tired and discouraged. As he sat in Mr. Cornell's office he told us that John F. Ballenger, who had headed The Gathering Call, had died; that M. E. Kellogg, A. T. Jones, A. F. Ballenger, and Elder Rupert were quarreling among themselves. He further said that The Gathering Call was about to be moved to California, and that they had no vacancy for him.

He now poured out his lamentations. In substance he declared, "I'm a man without a home. My daughters Bessie and Nellie are schoolteaching. They stay with their half-sister, Genevieve, who lives in Hillsdale and is having a hard time maintaining a home for her son, who is in college, and her two half-sisters. I am welcome there, but I can't put another burden upon her.

"I have no way of maintaining myself. The royalties on my books have run out. The farm is a sand hill. I can't raise much on it, neither can I rent it profitably."

Mr. Cornell questioned him about the Baptists.

With tears in his eyes he replied, "The Baptists here in Battle Creek have provided me with a key to the church basement and with an old desk in a corner. I can go and come there at will, and at Grand Rapids they have honored me with the title of Pastor Emeritus. But they say I am too shabby and don't grace the Baptist dignity, so they don't contribute to my support. I am virtually rejected by the Baptists.

"The Adventists still owe me something for all the work I did for them and all the money I raised. There are the fundraising projects I promoted, which they still use.

"My daughter Nellie is a Christian Scientist and a practitioner for the Christian Science people. All the girls follow Christian Science. Jasper is in the country; his wife is sick; I can't go there. My cousin, Theodore, lives in town; I don't get along with him; I can't stay there. I have no money to get a glass eye or suitable clothing."

I later learned that adverse financial conditions had prevailed for years, and that for two years prior to his wife's death he had been unable to maintain their household. His wife had lived with her brother's family, and had sustained herself by door-to-door selling of Adventist children's books.

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Our hearts were touched by this recital of woe. Mr. Cornell suggested he again stay in the same cottage in back of the Sanitarium helpers' kitchen, where he had stayed off and on before. In this way he could come in, in the morning to dictate his letters and do such other work as he chose. I agreed to return and work for him, since I was still working off my bill to Mr. Cornell.

The next morning, or soon after—on May 5—Mr. Canright dictated the following letter to D. W. Reavis:

Grand Rapids, MichiganNote 1
May 5, 1913

D. W. Reavis
Review and Herald,
Takoma Park,
Washington, D.C.

Dear Brother:

I enclose an obituary of my wife. Will you please put it in the Review right away. I think you must have known her, as she was in Battle Creek a good deal. I have written the notice very carefully so that I think there is nothing objectionable in it. If you think there is, cut it out, but don't add anything or change anything.

By reading it you will see she had a large circle of warm friends among Adventists. I think it is proper that they should know of her death. Of course, you know she was united with the Baptists with me. I have not mentioned that and it wasn't necessary. She took no interest in religious controversies and loved everybody and would have worked readily with Adventists had I stayed with them, but she went with me heartily, and we worked together nicely.

Had a fine letter from Brother [M. E.] Cornell and another from [F. M.] Wilcox.

Brother Reavis, I am becoming ashamed of the sharp, harsh spirit, I, with others, have had. I think a little more charity and kindness will be better all round and that is what I mean to cultivate from this on. Your kind letters help me a good deal that way. I am going up to Battle Creek shortly and have a good visit with my old Adventist friends.

(Signed) D. M. Canright

The same day I took down in shorthand this obituary.

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It seemed incomprehensible to me why, four and a half months after his wife's death he should belatedly send her obituary to the Adventist weekly, Review and Herald, with the request that it be promptly published. This, just before the General Conference session which was due to convene in Washington, D.C., on May 15. I wondered if he was again reaching out to his former Adventist brethren. Was he seeking an invitation to the General Conference session that would bring him again in close association with Adventist ministers? Having observed his eagerness to attend Adventist meetings in Battle Creek, I wondered.

I remember that he was particularly pleased when he received a letter from Mr. Reavis, promising that the obituary would be published. The obituary appeared in the issue of June 12, 1913, as follows:

CANRIGHT—Died, recently, at Grand Rapids, Mich., Mrs. Lucy Hadden Canright, wife of Elder D. M. Canright, of pneumonia and heart failure, aged 57 years. She had been failing some for nearly a year, but neither she nor the family supposed it was anything serious. At last she was persuaded to see the family physician. All were shocked when told that she was in the last stages of heart-disease, could live but a few months at the longest, and might die any day. This was kept from her, and everything possible done to make her life as pleasant as possible. She expected to be well again soon, but caught a slight cold, pneumonia set in, and six days later she died. She suffered very little, and quietly fell asleep, all her family being present.

She leaves one son and two daughters, all of age, unmarried, and at home, when not away teaching, also two brothers and two sisters. The remains were taken to Otsego, Mich., her old home, and buried in the family cemetery. The funeral services were conducted by her pastor, Rev. R. M. Scott.

When she was a small child, her mother, with many others, embraced the Adventist faith under the preaching of Elder M. E. Cornell, at Otsego, Mich., where there has been a strong church ever since. Here Lucy grew up a Sabbath-keeper. Being an excellent organist, a good singer, and an apt teacher, she was always a great help in the Sabbath-school. . . . Mrs. Canright attended the college at Battle Creek, Mich., where Professor Bell was teacher. In 1881 we were married by Elder James White, only a few weeks before his death. Together we visited many of the churches in Michigan, attended a series of camp-meetings in Canada, Maine, New England, New York, etc.

One summer we, with a large company, conducted tent-meetings in Worcester, Mass., and raised up a church there. This was the last time either

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of us ever saw Sister White. My wife was with me most of the time during my work in the church and college at Battle Creek, and thus was widely known among Sabbath-keepers. She greatly enjoyed entertaining the ministers and brethren in her own home, and loved them dearly. Among these were Brother and Sister White and both their sons, Edson and W. C., also Elders Butler, Smith, Corliss, and Fargo, and many others. During all her life she often spoke of all these with very kindly words and tender feelings.

She took little interest in doctrinal discussion, a big heart and tender sympathy for all, dominating her life. She cried when circumstances separated her from these old ties, but she went with her companion, and [was] greatly beloved by the church for her efficient and unselfish work. In my absence she conducted services in the pulpit, prayer-meeting, or Sabbath-school. If any in the neighborhood were sick, or poor, or in sorrow, she was the first to know it, the first to be there and see that something was done. She shortened her own life by caring for others when she needed to be cared for herself.

She lived a long life in a few years; but often thought she did not amount to much because not eloquent in speech nor gifted in argument. But when brethren and sisters and neighbors gathered around her casket and their tears fell on her dead face, while they said, "She was a mother to us all," that told a different story. It reminded me of our Lord's parable when he selected those to sit on his right hand who were surprised to be told that they had ever done anything.

There is no mention that Jesus selected any one because he was smart and good in debate. I felt ashamed of myself, for one, that I had not been more like my good wife. By God's grace there shall be hereafter less sharpness and more kindness toward all.

D. M. Canright (Italics supplied)

On May 15, having received a favorable response from D. W. Reavis, he wrote at considerable length a letter typical of not a few I transcribed for him at the time and typical also of his conversations with Adventists in the Battle Creek area:

Grand Rapids, Mich.
May 15, 1913

Elder W. A. Colcord,
Takoma Park, Washington, D.C.

Dear Brother:

I write this for you and brother Reavis both together. If it is convenient, wish you would sit down and read it together; if not read it, and hand it to him, as I would say exactly the same thing to each of you. Your letters were both so unexpected and so kind and Christian, that I have had to cry over them several times. I am surprised that you brethren feel so kindly

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toward me; it has made me ashamed of any harshness I have ever given way to in the past, but I have settled it in my heart now. It has ended forever, and I pray every day that more of the sympathizing of the Master may influence all my thoughts and life.

Bro. Clarke of the Tabernacle announced my wife's death in the pulpit and made very tender reference to me. All this has been too much for me. When a man pitches into me with an argument I rather enjoy it, but when he goes at me as you brethren have, I have no defense whatever. Your willingness to publish my wife's obituary was a very kind act. I wish she could know it. How I would enjoy being at your Conference, but if all the brethren treated me as you do, I'd be afraid to risk it. My sympathy and love for the old brethren would override my judgment.

Now I am glad to say I owe much to Adventism. From them I learned a deep reverence for every word of the Bible, and this abides with me still; a love for the prophecies, which I never would have learned from anybody else; I learned in my sermons to use largely the Bible, couldn't preach any other way. It pains me to hear a minister take a text and then give simply his own talk, sometimes good, often poor.

I have the same faith in the personal second advent of Christ, resurrection of the dead, the judgment, the new earth, the Holy City, recognition of friends, eternal separation of the righteous and wicked, faith in the Divinity of Jesus Christ, and all the other grand truths, which are born into my soul, during my early ministry, I preached all this to my church till they are as sound on that as the S. D. A. In return Adventists owe something to me.

Then in detail he recounted the contribution he made to Seventh-day Adventists as he assisted on committees, made suggestions and promoted various activities. His closing paragraphs carried his appreciation for the kindness extended to him, which among other points revealed that he was a subscriber to the Review and Herald. He said:

You are very kind to offer to send me copies with wife's obituary. It will accommodate me a good deal if you will mark her obituary with a blue pencil and mail it to the list that I enclose, and then send me two or three extra copies. You see you could do it at the office so much easier than I can. I enclose $1.00 to pay for these and the Conference Bulletin, which please send me. If you refuse to take the 50 cents for the papers, credit it on my Review.

I am perfectly well in body and in mind, just as active as ever. Have a beautiful home, worth $10,000 or $12,000. Everything I need and a lovely family of children. The Baptist church here, of which I have been pastor twice, always an active member, revere me as their father, and consult me on all important things. My decision on any doctrinal questions settles it. I love them dearly and believe I shall see a lot of them in the Kingdom.

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I am 72 years old. My wife's sudden death has about upset me, and you brethren have about finished me. I can say from my heart "God bless you" just as far as you are right in your work, and that is all I dare ask for myself. Neither of us would be safe in risking our salvation on the infallibility of our doctrinal belief. I think you will agree with me in that.

Well, excuse this short letter and I will write you a fairsized letter next time.

Your brother striving for a better life,
D. M. Canright

As I transcribed this, I couldn't help contrasting his claims of prosperity with his actual condition.

End Notes

1. Although working in Battle Creek, Mr. Canright maintained his Grand Rapids mailing address. It would have been poor policy to have done otherwise. [back to text]

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