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Smith: The keeper of Coffee's old Bible

  • 4/30/2008: A1: Rev. James Coffee
    PC: Rev. James Coffee (right) with his assistant Michael Francis (both CQ) at the Black Chamber of Commerce dinner at Paradise Ridge Winery. May 24, 2007. Press Democrat / Jeff Kan Lee

For years before his death in 2010, the Rev. James E. Coffee was seen often in the company of a gentle giant of a man named Michael Francis.

"He wouldn't go nowhere without me," said the 6-foot-5 and powerfully built Francis, a teacher and counselor.

He found his way to Santa Rosa's multi-cultural Community Baptist Church years ago and came quickly to revere Pastor Coffee, for decades this place's most passionate and loving dismantler of the walls that divide people.

"He was my mentor. I looked up to him," said Francis, 48. The Rev. Coffee could not help but look up to him.

Francis became the pastor's armorbearer: his aide, bodyguard and, in later years, his driver.

Along the way, Francis heard himself called to the ministry. He studied, and now he's an associate minister to Coffee's successor at Community Baptist Church, the Rev. H. Lee Turner.

Francis thinks of Coffee as he researches and writes his occasional sermons, and as he steps up to preach.

Vivian Coffee one day spied one of her late husband's personalized Bibles and she knew where it should rightfully go. She gave it to Francis, assuring him that her late husband would be very proud of him.

"He did a lot for James," Vivian said. "James was like another dad to him. And he was like a son."

Quite a good son.

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