Christian bookstore founder dies

Published 9:18 pm Monday, August 25, 2014

Building Suffolk’s Christian Bookstore from the ground up was not just a business for its first owner, her husband Gary Saunders Sr. said Monday.

Linda Elizabeth Turner Saunders, 71, died Thursday after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. She opened the bookstore in 1974 after being told by God to do so, Gary Saunders said.

“It was a ministry for her, and it was a passion for her,” he said. “Linda went for years and never took a salary. God called her to do it, and He didn’t say anything about getting rich.”

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The Saunderses married in 1963. Gary Saunders said he didn’t want her to have to work away from home, so his wife initially didn’t say anything to him when God spoke to her and told her to open a Christian bookstore, he said.

That was in 1973. A couple of months later, Gary Saunders turned to his wife on a family camping trip and said, “God wants you to open a Christian bookstore,” he recalled.

Linda Saunders had retail experience from her teenage years, but not as management. After taking a couple of night courses in retail, she opened the bookstore at its first location on North Main Street, where the Mills E. Godwin Jr. Courts Complex stands now.

The store then moved across the street and then moved to the Holland Road shopping center behind George’s Steakhouse, where it stayed for 16 years.

Gary Saunders said his wife often prayed and cried with employees and customers in the store. She always made sure everything she did — with regard to the store and otherwise — brought glory to God.

“She would rather agonize over paying the bills than do anything that even remotely came close to unscrupulous,” Gary Saunders said.

Linda Saunders was diagnosed in 2002 with Parkinson’s disease, which made it hard for her to run the store, her husband said.

“Linda was having a hard time even standing up,” Gary Saunders said. Eventually, she came home one night and told her husband, “God’s releasing me from the call.”

The couple called current owner Andrew Mattox, with whom they had had previous conversations, and sold the store to him in 2005. It then moved to the shopping center on North Main Street where Chick-fil-A now stands out front.

Two years later, Saunders broke her hip in a fall and, upon her release from the hospital, entered a nursing home, where she lived the rest of her life.

In a Facebook post announcing Saunders’ death, Mattox paid tribute to her ministry.

“Linda leaves behind a legacy of faith and obedience to God and His call on her life to start the Christian Bookstore of Suffolk, Va., to be of service to the people and churches of the surrounding communities,” Mattox wrote. “Linda Saunders’ legacy will always continue to leave ripple effects in the lives of others because of a little ol’ Christian bookstore she began from nothing but faith.”

“I’ve taken it over, but she plowed the field,” Mattox said Monday. “I’m here to carry on her legacy.”

Saunders is survived by the couple’s daughter and son as well as her husband. A funeral will take place Tuesday at 11 a.m. at First Baptist Church, 237 N. Main St.