PLANO — For the past seven years, Jay Hellwig would accompany Zig Ziglar to business meetings and speaking engagements worldwide, with Ziglar often sharing platforms with world leaders in business, politics and entertainment. Sometimes, he would sit across from Ziglar at his kitchen table as he finished up his Bible reading or his daily newspaper.
Hellwig would be the one to insist that they hurry along at airports as Ziglar engaged strangers wanting their books signed or a nugget of advice from a man widely known as “America’s motivator.”
But as Ziglar’s personal assistant, what sticks with Hellwig above all is Ziglar’s practice of reserving meal appointments very selectively. Ziglar could have his pick of interesting and entertaining people for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Those sought-after appointments, however, were held for people who didn’t have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, Hellwig said.
Ziglar, known worldwide for his folksy and often anecdotal motivational talks on success through serving others, died Wednesday (Nov. 28) in Plano, Texas, of complications from pneumonia at age 86.
His pastor, Jack Graham, said Ziglar saw himself foremost as a “minister of encouragement.”
“He was a dispenser of hope and joy and a whole lot of love,” said Graham, of Dallas-area Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, during a news conference hours after Ziglar’s death.
Ziglar’s deep, soothing Mississippi drawl and speeches and books often sprinkled with mentions of his Christian faith endeared him to millions. Ziglar was arguably the best-known motivational speaker of his day, having conducted hundreds of corporate seminars and giving motivational speeches to hundreds of thousands of people over a 42-year speaking career.
A longtime Southern Baptist, Ziglar served as first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1984-85 during Atlanta pastor Charles Stanley’s tenure as SBC president.
His 30-plus books include best-sellers “See You at The Top!” and “Confessions of a Happy Christian.” Another book, “Confessions of a Grieving Christian” (B&H Publishing Group, LifeWay Christian Resources) followed the death of daughter Suzan Ziglar Witmeyer from pulmonary fibrosis in 1995.
Ziglar taught an “Encouragers” Bible study class for 18 years on Sunday mornings at Prestonwood until several years ago, Graham said.
“His ability to communicate and motivate came from deep within,” Graham said. “He had an incredible faith and what motivated the ‘motivator’ was his personal faith in Christ.”
Graham said one of his favorite “Zigisms” — those wise turns-of-phrases Ziglar was known for — was along the lines of, “‘You can get everything you want in life as long as you are willing to help others get what they want in life.'”
“So many of the principles and teachings that Zig gave were right out of the Bible and he would tell you that,” Graham said, noting that Ziglar rarely missed church despite a demanding travel schedule. The last year, Ziglar’s declining health caused him and his wife Jean to watch the services online.
Graham said Ziglar’s definition of success included a high ethical and moral code and “a greater picture of using what you have, your success, to encourage or bless others” and to honor God.
Ziglar often talked about “stinkin’ thinkin’,” expressing a firm belief that attitude deeply affects all areas of life.
“We all need a daily check up from the neck up to avoid stinkin’ thinkin’ which ultimately leads to hardening of the attitudes,” Ziglar is cited as saying in a collection of his quotations provided by his company, Ziglar Inc.
Among an array of his observations: “Many marriages would be better if the husband and wife clearly understood that they’re on the same side” — and “Kids go where there is excitement. They stay where there is love.”
And this quote appears in a memorial entry on Ziglar’s Facebook page: “Among the things you can give and still keep are your word, a smile, and a grateful heart.”
Ziglar’s conversion in 1972 by the testimony of “Sister Jessie,” an African American woman who visited the Ziglar family over the 4th of July weekend that year, heightened his appreciation for people from all walks of life, Hellwig said, noting the Wall of Gratitude in Ziglar’s office commemorating the influence of 27 men and women whom Ziglar considered his major influences. Sister Jessie shares that wall with a diverse group of men and women, Hellwig said.
Hellwig said Ziglar’s affection for his wife Jean — whom he often called “the redhead” and frequently referred to in his speeches — was evident to all who knew the couple.
Donald Wildmon, founder of the Mississippi-based American Family Association, who worked with Ziglar in the 1980s to get pornography removed from the shelves of the 7-11 convenience store chain, said that while Ziglar was a “giant in the business community,” he was also a “wonderful Christian gentleman who served God in many ways” and “believed in our cause of returning decency and morality to the public square.”
“An amazing, amazing man whose legacy will live on” through his family and his church, Graham told reporters.
The 10th of 12 children, Ziglar was born in Coffee County, Ala., as Hilary Hinton Ziglar but the nickname “Zig” stuck with him as he grew up in Yazoo City, Miss. Ziglar was a World War II Navy veteran and attended Milsaps College in Jackson, Miss., and the University of South Carolina before beginning his career as a salesman and later a public speaker.
Ziglar was preceded in death by his 11 siblings and his daughter Suzan. In addition to his wife Jean, he is survived by one son, John Thomas (Tom) Ziglar of Plano; two daughters, Cindy Ziglar Oates, of Southlake, Texas, and Julie Ziglar Norman of Alvord, Texas; seven grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.
Ziglar’s funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday (Dec. 1) at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas.