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Ernest Wilson—If You Want To Enough

CHAPTER XVII — All Things Good

Kansas City was just digging its way out of a heavy snowstorm when I arrived on the eighth of March, 1927 to begin my assignment as editor of Youth. I picked my way between banks of snow at the Union Station for a taxi to take me to the world famous address, 917 Tracy, inquired for the name of a nearby hotel, The Schuyler, and made it my temporary abode.

Lowell and Alice Fillmore invited me to dinner, followed by a combined vaudeville and movie show at the Newman Theater. There was a pit orchestra, directed by the famous violinist, Rubinoff, who was soon to achieve added fame in motion pictures. During the next two days Alice helped me find more suitable living quarters in a new apartment hotel, The Ellison on Armour Boulevard, just off Broadway; and I shopped for a car.

When I sat down at my desk in the editorial department the next morning, my first act was to open the calendar pad to the proper date. It was March 11th, just eleven years to the day from my consecration to the ministry. It seemed to me like more than mere coincidence.

To be employed at Unity in any capacity would have excited me, but it was yet more exciting to come as editor of Youth, one of the five major magazines. Daily Word, Weekly Unity, and Unity monthly led the list in number of subscribers, with Good Business and Youth, the newest and smallest trying to catch up.

Unity buildings occupied most of the block from Ninth to Tenth on Tracy; Unity Inn, Unity Annex, Unity Society, Unity’s pillared administrations building and the employee’s parking lot in that order, backed up by its huge printing building which included giant presses, linotype machines, folders and binders; tangible evidence that Unity was the largest organization in the New Thought field (and still is). There were some thirty-two department heads, directing the four hundred workers required to serve its followers. Even so, it was outgrowing its facilities and there was talk of moving to yet greater facilities that were beginning to take form on a 1200 acre farm out in the suburbs, under the creative direction of Lowell’s younger brother, Rickert. Excitement was not only in me. It was in the air! Vision, growth, expansion! All things good seemed possible, and only the good was true!

Several Hats—a Radio Topper

The aura at Unity was familial. Most of the “workers” called Charles and Myrtle Fillmore “Papa Charlie” and “Mother Myrtle”; and everyone else from executives to errand boys by their given names. I liked this, except that I could never bring myself to call the cofounders anything but Mr. and Mrs. Fillmore.

Most of the executives wore several hats. Frank Whitney, whom we all called “Whitty” (founder-editor of Daily Word), was the only editor who did not have some other title or duty, like teaching classes or presiding at meetings, or being on committees. (He made one rare exception in my favor, which I’ll come to later on, that resulted in our becoming the closest of friends.)

The workers at Unity tended to stay on; the turnover was slight. Most of the executives I encountered when I came to work there had been in service long enough to have acquired more responsibilities than they had bargained for. The several assignments that soon came to me were not so much a compliment to my possible but largely untested abilities, as to a chance opportunity to relinquish some duties that may have lost much of their initial appeal. The newest project was radio, which had only in the past very few years emerged out of the crystal and whiskers stage. Unity School pioneered in religious broadcasting, was one of the first religious movements to have its own station, WOQ. I was offered radio experience that gave most of the staff “mike” fright. They didn’t know I shared that feeling because even though inwardly I was afraid, I could still keep talking! I had no intimation that radio would be as great a factor in my life—or anybody’s really—as it has. I only felt that if the Fillmores thought I could cope with it, I must not disappoint them. “You can if you want to enough,” my subconscious chided me.

Frightened at first, as I was to be later by television, I grew to enjoy talking on radio. From those first broadcasts in 1927 I have been on radio at least once a day, often twice, until August 1976; almost sixty years! WOQ was not a very strong station, and not on full-time at that, but it was noteworthy in its time. In the wee hours of the night, when most commercial stations were off the air, it could be heard coast to coast. Charles Fillmore, Francis Gable and I took turns staying up to broadcast the Unity message to faraway places. It thrilled us, I think, as much as those who tuned in.

Great Discovery

Early on, I made a great discovery, which like many others, is obvious once it’s made. Initially I had thought of myself as addressing a great crowd of people in a vast invisible auditorium. Letters from listeners made me realize that though hopefully there might be hundreds or thousands of listeners tuned in, they were listening in small groups of two or three eating breakfast together, or maybe just one person in a sick bed, or a homemaker washing dishes or making beds, or a man of the house getting ready for a day’s work. I was a privileged guest under such circumstances, not an orator (which I could not be anyway) but, potentially, a friend concerned with how Unity concepts might help in whatever the day might bring.

So by the time the Columbia Network invited Unity to be represented on its “Church of the Air,” (and none of the founding family wanted to try it) Lowell asked me to undertake it.

I did, not only the once but seven times, taking turns with representatives of all denominations, at intervals of from nine months to a year. The seventh was from Los Angeles in 1939. Soon afterwards the network assigned Church of the Air to a federation of churches, and Unity was not again invited to take part.

Despite the diversity of my activities, Youth magazine was my chief concern, though this was not apparent to some of my peers. “Some day you are going to have to decide whether to be an editor or a minister,” one of them told me. She may have been right, but it seemed to me that the two interests supplemented and strengthened each other. There were, however, only so many hours in a day, only one place I could be at a time; so it seemed essential that like the other editors, I should have an associate editor on Youth. We found one, a winsome and capable young lady, Aileen Muir Owens. When a turn of affairs took me afield, she succeeded me. She became a better editor than I, finally relinquishing the post to rear a family. She still resides in Kansas City. She devotes much of her time to helping young writers. We see each other often, and are better friends than ever, if that is possible.

—No Use Talking

Unity’s radio programs attracted many persons who lived near the School. Some of them took it for granted that they were welcome whenever a meeting was being held, with no distinction between workers meeting and classes intended for students. One morning when Lowell was leading the workers’ meeting, a neighbor lady interrupted him to tell us how much the radio programs inspired her. “Ernest Wilson floods my bedroom every morning,” she declared—to the great amusement of my co-workers. Another loquacious visitor often spoke so often and so loudly as to be distracting to all of us. I resorted to a direct approach to the problem. Stepping down from the platform to where she was sitting in the first row, I clasped her hand and said, “We all appreciate your interest, but right now it’s my time to speak. We’ll excuse you if you don’t want to listen.” It was effective and she took it in good part.

Years later, at Forest Lawn, while waiting to begin a service I could hear what sounded like an infant’s cry; instead it was one of the mourners. I thought she would stop as I began reading the opening Scriptural passage. I could see people trying to hear me over her wallings. I stopped. She didn’t. As on that earlier occasion I used the direct approach. I left the lectern and stood in front of her. The wailing continued. I spoke:

“Ma’am, we all appreciate your feelings, but you asked me to conduct this service, so I assume that you want to hear what I have to say. I’ll wait until you are ready to listen.” The crying stopped, and I started over. After the service the director thanked me. “She has been crying for hours. Our efforts to comfort her only seemed to make it worse.”

“That’s one family I’ll never be called on to serve again,” I commented, chagrined at my own effrontery, “but it seemed the only thing to do.” Surprisingly, I did serve that family again. I recognized the wailing voice before I entered the chapel. It stopped as I appeared.

© 1984, by Ronald and Beverly Potter
All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission.