It’s hard to envision a more grace-filled response and Spirit-anointed outcome to a trial than Ron Hamilton’s when he lost his eye to cancer.
You may already know the story: As a young husband, Ron was diagnosed with cancer behind his left eye. The surgery to remove the cancer also resulted in the loss of his eye. After surgery, he found that kids gravitated toward him wearing a patch. They were full of questions, and some called him “Patch the Pirate.” It was though this tragedy—and Ron’s trust in the Lord through it—that the ministry of “Patch the Pirate” began.
Over the past forty-five years now, Ron and Shelly Hamilton have produced over forty children’s musical audio dramas with Patch the Pirate. And that is in addition to writing and publishing church music through Majesty Music ministry. Their music and children’s ministry has blessed tens of thousands of churches and Christians all over the world.
But Ron Hamilton, who went to Heaven this evening, was so much more than Patch the Pirate. And he experienced more trials than losing his eye. I was blessed to see Ron respond to each of those trials with trust in the Lord. And I rejoice with him that today his faith has become sight as he is now “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).
As we grieve with the Hamilton family and with friends around the world, I’d like to share a few ways I was blessed through Ron’s life.
His love for the Lord and others
To be around Ron, you knew that he really loved the Lord. He didn’t just write songs about his love for Christ, but it was something you could see in him in real life. He talked about the Lord, shared personally what the Lord was teaching him, and saw his ministry as a service to the Lord.
Ron’s love for the Lord spilled over into his love for others. One of the things that always stood out to me was Ron’s tender love for Shelly. He loved his family, including their five children, their children’s spouses, and their grandchildren. The fun conversations between Patch and his crew on the recordings may have been make believe in content, but they weren’t fake in the reality of loving relationships within the family.
Additionally, Ron loved the people and children he served through his ministry. He was like a kid magnet whenever he came to our church, and he really enjoyed it. He didn’t just tolerate kids; he loved them. And he wanted to bless them.
It was easy to love Ron back, and our family did. Our kids have many happy memories of hosting Patch the Pirate and Sissy Seagull (Shelly) and their crew in our home. (The children in the pictures above are our children and grandchildren with Patch.) Our church family, too, loves the Hamiltons and is praying for Shelly and the family in this time of loss.
His humility and local church focus
As a pastor, what blessed me the most about Ron was his heart for local church ministry. That is rare in a Christian musician, especially in one with a worldwide impact.
Several years ago, I wrote a booklet titled Biblical Principles for Music and Worship. I sent a pre-print draft to Ron to ask for his input as a musician. He gave some helpful feedback, but his summary comment was so revealing of his heart. He wrote, “I wish that church musicians had less conversations about music and more about soulwinning and one-on-one ministry.”
Ron had a worldwide impact, but he wasn’t a big shot musician. He was a true servant of the Lord who weekly led the congregational music and directed the choir at the church where he served as the music pastor. And he regularly shared the gospel in personal outreach. I’m sure over the next several weeks we’ll all hear stories of people Ron and Shelly mentored and discipled in personal, local church ministry.
His trust in the Lord through trials
The most obvious and known trial in Ron’s life was the loss of his eye to cancer. But, like every Christian, he experienced many burdens others didn’t know about.
Many of us remember when Ron and Shelly’s son, Jonathan, died in 2013. What many people didn’t know until after Jonathan’s death was the burden of Jonathan’s private battle with mental suffering that Ron and Shelly had carried with him for many years. On multiple occasions as Ron and I spoke of Jonathan’s needs, Ron shared the heartache of watching Jonathan suffer. But he also always expressed—directly or indirectly—his trust in the Lord. Shortly after Jonathan’s Homegoing, Ron spoke here at Spiritual Leadership Conference on “Grace in the Midst of Trials.” (You can listen to an audio of that session here.)
His choice to rejoice in the Lord
Ron didn’t just resign himself to trusting the Lord because there was nothing else he could do. He didn’t have a fatalistic faith. Rather, Ron chose to follow the instruction of Philippians 4:4 and “Rejoice in the Lord.”
In fact, his signature song—for which he wrote both the music and lyrics—was based on Philippians 4:4 and titled “Rejoice in the Lord.”
God never moves without purpose or plan
When trying His servant and molding a man.
Give thanks to the Lord though your testing seems long;
In darkness He giveth a song.
O Rejoice in the Lord.
He makes no mistake.
He knoweth the end of each path that I take.
For when I am tried and purified,
I shall come forth as gold.
His faithfulness to the end
It’s been several years now that Ron has been struggling with dementia. It’s been a long, slow battle. In recent years, the burden of this long, painful goodbye has largely been carried by Shelly and the rest of the family. Shelly herself has been so very faithful in her love and care for Ron right up until the end. Our family is praying for her in this time of loss, and we encourage you to as well.
Ron’s trust in God through this final trial—even in the early years of it when he realized what was taking place—was unwavering. I can only imagine what it was like for Ron to one moment be in a failing body with a mind no longer resembling its former brilliance…and the next moment to be surrounded by the very music of Heaven and hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant…enter thou into the joy of thy Lord” (Matthew 25:21).