GOD & TEXAS: The Neff Bible
“I work about eighteen hours each day, but do as I please the rest of the time.” These humorous words were written in 1922 by Texas Governor Pat Morris Neff to a family friend.
Born in 1871 near Eagle Springs, west of Waco, Neff was elected governor from 1921 to 1925. From a rural farmhouse to the Governor's Mansion, Neff captured the attention of voters with his prohibitionist view of “demon rum,” and his support of women’s rights.
As governor, Neff had many political enemies including the Ku Klux Klan, liberal politicians who had abused the parole system, and the national railroad unions. But he had major successes like initiating a state highway system and creating a state parks program.
Governor Neff started a tradition that has been repeated by most governors who have followed him in office. There is a unique Bible in the governors’ private office that bears the gold inscription on the front cover of the 6x8-inch volume that reads, “Presented to my successor in office. Pat M. Neff, Governor of Texas, 1921-1925, January 20, 1925.”
Inside, Neff marked Psalm 119:105 for incoming Governor Miriam A. Ferguson, which states, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” Since then, most departing governors have marked a passage of scripture for the incoming executive. In 2015, outgoing governor Rick Perry handed Greg Abbot that same Bible having marked Amos 5:15, “Hate the evil and love the good, and establish judgment in the gate.”
Neff served two terms as governor, followed by 15 years as president of Baylor University. At a time when most politicians were not trusted, he was recognized as a Godly man with integrity and high standards. In his private life, he was faithful to his wife Myrtle for over 50 years, never drank alcohol, but loved buttermilk.
Pat Neff was a brilliant orator and author. In his book, “Battles of Peace,” he wrote, “Life is a battle. Civilization is bought with blood. Through countless ages of mingled glory and gloom, the children of men have marched through rivers of tears and oceans of blood, seeking at all times, by Divine guidance, the light and learning of a higher, a better civilization.”
A better civilization can only be found as leaders commit themselves to the precepts and teaching of the Bible. As it says in Hebrews 4:12 NIV, “The Word of God is active and alive. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” That is why Pat Neff commended the Bible to the next Governor.
In a letter to his future wife Myrtle, dated July 29, 1893, Pat revealed his personal life vision: “O, I do want to live a grand, true, and noble Christian life, for I know of no higher or sublime type of true man-hood than to be a devoted servant of God.”
May this be the goal of every elected leader.