One of the great love stories of my lifetime is that of Robertson and Muriel McQuilken.
Dr. Robertson McQuilken was a respected Bible teacher, author, and missionary leader who was president of Columbia Bible College (now Columbia International University) from 1968 to 1990. During the 80′s his wife Muriel began showing signs that her memory was deteriorating. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, but continued to try and live as normally as possible.
Gradually, however, Muriel began losing her life. First, she could no longer do her radio program. Then she had to give up speaking and all forms of public ministry. She tried to keep counseling the young people who came to her and stay involved in the community, but it wasn’t long before those efforts failed. Even the letters she wrote to her children were becoming incomprehensible.
In 1990, McQuilken wrote, ‘Muriel never knew what was happening to her, though occasionally when there was a reference to Alzheimer’s on TV she would muse aloud, “I wonder if I’ll ever have that?” It did not seem painful for her, but it was a slow dying for me to watch the vibrant, creative, articulate person I knew and loved gradually dimming out.’
At age 57, Robertson McQuilken approached his board and encouraged them to begin searching for his successor. If Muriel were to need him full-time, he planned to make himself available for that. But it was a struggle for the college president. He had devoted his life to Christian service. Dear friends and colleagues reminded him of that and encouraged him to arrange for care for his wife so that he could continue to serve Christ and his Kingdom. After all, did not Jesus say that sometimes we must “hate” those nearest and dearest to us for his sake?
Against this counsel, Robertson McQuilken resigned from Columbia in 1990 to care for Muriel.
When the time came, the decision was firm. It took no great calculation. It was a matter of integrity. Had I not promised, 42 years before, “in sickness and in health . . . till death do us part”?
This was no grim duty to which I stoically resigned, however. It was only fair. She had, after all, cared for me for almost four decades with marvelous devotion; now it was my turn. And such a partner she was! If I took care of her for 40 years, I would never be out of her debt.Perhaps Robertson McQuilken’s heart is seen most fully in these unforgettable words: “She is such a delight to me. I don’t have to care for her, I get to.”
By 1993, Muriel McQuilken could no longer recognize her husband. In 1996, Robertson wrote, “Love is said to evaporate if the relationship is not mutual, if it’s not physical, if the other person doesn’t communicate, or if one party doesn’t carry his or her share of the load. When I hear the litany of essentials for a happy marriage, I count off what my beloved can no longer contribute, and I contemplate how truly mysterious love is.”
He cared for her until her death in September, 2003.
Love truly is mysterious and wonderful. It looks at people and situations and, when others might say, “Do I have to?” love says, “What a privilege! I get to!”
• • •The following is a slide show of the McQuilkens, with audio from his moving resignation speech in 1990.