Tidwell died March 21 from the illness, but not before making a giant impact on those around him during his five-year battle.
“When he was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, he made a decision that he would not only fight, but let God work through him for the kingdom,” said Tidwell’s son, Nathan, a 27-year-old baseball coach and father of two. “I believe that happened. He continued to grow closer to the Lord over the last five years through that. He never got down, he never gave up.”
Cancer would of course change Tidwell’s life, but not always for the worse. Tidwell started a foundation called “Leave a Mark,” determined to do just that, help people to leave their mark on the world.
Through the foundation he wrote a book and spoke in front of nearly 20,000 people, including corporations, schools, churches and even the Atlanta Falcons.
Tidwell had always been goal-oriented, his son said. He won nine state championships in 19 years as a baseball and softball coach at The Walker School in northeast Cobb and at a previous stop in Cross Lanes, W. Va. Tidwell also served as area director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. In 2010, he was named Dominion Christian School’s new baseball coach. Following in his father’s footsteps, Nathan joined him there as an assistant head coach, and is now a baseball coach himself. That connection is one of thousands of ways the elder Tidwell influenced those around him.
The Leave a Mark campaign is geared to inspire and motivate individuals to be cognizant of their influence on others and society, said his daughter, Jessica Coyle, a 26-year-old account manager awaiting the birth of her first child.
“While no one knows when they will take their last breath, some are given a stricter timeline than anticipated, and Mark’s hope is that his situation will strike a chord with others to make the most of every opportunity, every day,” she said.
Telling the stories of unknown heroes
Tidwell’s book highlights people throughout history who have left their own mark on the world, taking a look at otherwise unknown individuals who have nonetheless inspired millions of people.
One experience Coyle will never forget is helping her father write that book. Incredibly, it was written from start to finish in less than two months in between treatments, work and family time.
“It was really his brainchild; he felt as though there was a message that needed to be highlighted,” Coyle said. “Each chapter was about a different person or theme, from the person who blazed the Appalachian Trial to individuals who started charity organizations. We shared the story of how those organizations came into being and how it was through one person’s idea.”
Reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.
“He had a deadline in mind and had this urgency with him being sick. He really wanted to get the story out and use that as a platform to be able to speak to youth, young adults, to everyone about how one person can make a huge difference,” Coyle said. “Everything we hear is about how great of a story it is, that it’s an easy read … it’s full of interesting facts you may not realize, like how a Sunday school teacher influenced a president.”
Connecting with people
Family friend Scott Pope was there through the highs and lows of Tidwell’s struggle. Pope is a former football coach at Austin-Peay State University and at high schools in Tennessee and Georgia. He now works with the FCA as football director and has known Tidwell through the organization for the last seven years. Pope made sure to be there for Tidwell’s surgeries. He was there for his public speaking events, too, and saw how Tidwell influenced people, how he connected with the crowd on his speaking dates, how he left his mark.
He said Tidwell’s influence only grew through his illness.
“Without question, he influenced more lives and left a mark on more people after cancer than before cancer,” said Pope. “It was not a stumbling block, it was a stepping stone to him.”
One of Tidwell’s big goals was to reach his 50th birthday. He accomplished that goal just a few months ago, celebrating with 350 friends.
‘You didn’t cry around him’
“Even when you went to visit him, his family would tell you, ‘If you’re going to cry and get emotional you can get out,’” Pope said. “They showed courage and strength and will. The whole family, you didn’t cry around him. You did not show weakness. You showed strength and courage and tenacity when you were around him.”
And that may be the biggest mark of all.
“He’s just a mighty warrior, battle tested and battle ready and now he’s with the Lord. This is the eternal prize, this is why we accept Christ and that’s the hope that we have,” Pope said. “Mark took pain and turned it into power.”
Tidwell is survived by his wife, Lee, and 23-year-old son, Cameron Tidwell, in addition to Jessica and Nathan and two grandchildren. Visitation was Friday at Wildwood Baptist Church. A celebration service is scheduled for today at 11 a.m. at the same location. For more information on Mark’s life, visit leaveamarknow.com.