His voice is familiar. His speech is humble. Ron Hamilton is not just an entertainer for children—he’s a messenger of the faith. For nearly three decades his music has been an inspiration for parents and children around the world. Today, the Adventures of Patch the Pirate radio broadcast is recognized by the National Religious Broadcasters as being the third largest children’s religious programming outreach. It began with forty-five stations and now enjoys more than 450 outlets. When confronted with his ministry’s success, Dr. Hamilton quickly gives the glory to God.
The story of “Patch the Pirate” began with a routine visit to the eye doctor that turned into an alarming discovery—cancer in his left eye. After weeks of testing, Ron Hamilton was rolled into the operating room for surgery. Only God knew what the outcome would be. After slowly regaining consciousness, his wife Shelly quietly relayed the news, “The doctors found cancer. Your left eye is gone.”
“When I returned to church,” Ron says, “kids were fascinated by my eye patch. Everywhere I went children would call out to their embarrassed mothers, ‘Look, Mom! There goes a pirate!’ The children in my church gave me a nickname that stuck—Patch the Pirate.” Since 1980, Ron, his wife Shelly, and their five children have produced and starred in an annual series of audio recordings for children.
On a recent visit to the campus of Lancaster Baptist Church and West Coast Baptist College, The Baptist Voice interviewed Ron about his ministry of music for children.
Why do you write children’s music?
What drives me to keep writing are the many children and adults who have told me they were saved listening to “Patch the Pirate.” Kids have given the recordings to their neighbors and have seen those neighbors saved. Seeing people saved is my greatest motivation. As I grow older I have this great sense that I have been doing what God made me to do.
How often do you hear from people who grew up listening to Patch?
I get calls and emails regularly. When we travel it is even more frequent. What is wonderful is hearing the spiritual blessings like a missionary who told me, “I’m on the mission field now because I listened to ‘Patch Goes to the Jungle.’ God used that to work in my heart and call me to the mission field.” I love hearing what God is doing in people’s lives.
Did you ever expect this impact from “Patch the Pirate” and Majesty Music?
I wish I were more of a visionary like Pastor Chappell, but I’m not. God just opens up the doors, and I walk through them. I wish I could say that I envisioned something like the ministry today, but I can’t. When God took my left eye to cancer, I was just trying to trust Him. I had no bigger dreams besides coming home and “staying by the stuff.” When kids started calling me “Patch the Pirate” and I made the first recording, I had no idea what God was doing. Soon after the first recording parents told me, “This is all my kids listen to, and we are tired of hearing it. Can you make another one?” It just grew out of necessity in response to the feedback I received. Everything has exceeded my expectations. I thank the Lord and tell Him, “Lord, this isn’t me.”
So, you didn’t always intend to write for children?
No, not really. At the beginning, I’m ashamed to confess, I thought writing music for children was below my training. I had already written music for adults and was teaching on a college level. But when we made that first recording and heard such a tremendous response from kids and parents, I realized what a great need children have for good music. We had written many adult musicals and we saw people saved through those, but it was nothing like the responses to Patch the Pirate. When you write an adult choir book, you don’t usually have people beating your door for more. When you write for children, kids and parents want more. God had to teach me the impact you can have on a child’s life.
Has anyone criticized you for choosing a pirate as your musical character?
Yes, but the criticism usually comes from those that don’t know the background. When I came out of the hospital, I was a pirate whether I wanted to be or not. When I walk into McDonald’s, even today, the kids say, “Look Mom, there is a pirate!” I had to make up my mind to either fight this image my whole life or go with it. Someone that doesn’t know the full story may ask, “If you choose a role model for kids, why choose a pirate?” I didn’t choose the image; it is just what kids see me as now.
How are you involved with your local church?
My wife and I joined the staff of Calvary Baptist Church in Simpsonville, South Carolina. I am part of the pastoral staff involved with all the ministries, but my main ministry is music.
With your busy schedule, why do you still take time to travel?
One of my main burdens is to tell parents and pastors that their music choices will make a radical difference in their families and congregations. So many people have no morals with music. They feel that all music is up for grabs. Because there are some well-known religious personalities telling churches they can only grow using Contemporary Christian Music, I want to let folks know wherever I go that there is good music and there is bad music. If you don’t get kids [to listen to good music] while they are young, it is really tough later on.
I recently had a pastor call and ask me to come to their church. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, “I really bought into that philosophy that you have to use Contemporary Christian Music in order to build a church. I bought into it even though it wasn’t what I was taught. After using the new philosophy in music, the amount of worldliness that has come into my church has been devastating.”
He asked me, “I see the problem now, but how can I get back? Can you help me?” My heart broke when I heard this pastor. This is happening more and more. I can’t do too much traveling because my kids are still at home and my responsibility is with my church, but there is such a need for good music in churches.
You mentioned your family. How has the ministry of “Patch the Pirate” influenced your family?
It’s huge. When I travelled very frequently, I always took one of the kids with me. In the summer I would take the whole family. Singing and rehearsing together did a lot for our family. I look back now and those were some of the most precious times preparing for services. We had to practice, learn the songs, and we have great memories of singing together or goofing up a song.
We just have so many funny memories. In one church one of the kids got sick and ran off the platform. In another service we had to leave right afterwards, and Shelly took the kids to the back to get changed and ready to go. I was preaching that service when my five-year-old son came running barefoot up the aisle into the choir loft behind me wearing only his tee-shirt and pants. I tried to collect my thoughts and begin the invitation when he explodes out the other side of the choir loft and says, “Hi, Dad!” The congregation died laughing and I struggled to bring the service to a serious conclusion. I found out later Shelly told him to get dressed thinking his clothes were all in one place, but he had scattered them everywhere and just went to go look for them. Crazy things like that happened, but it really drew our family together.
What projects are you working on now?
We have started our new Patch recording. We are deciding between a traditional pirate sea adventure or something staged in China. We have often chosen a country like Ireland or Italy to show the spiritual needs in that country.
We had to make some changes in our last recording. Our fifteen-year-old son was the voice of PJ Pirate, but when we began recording I realized quickly his voice was not PJ Pirate anymore. All of our children have had a character in the recordings, but over the years we have had to drop most of their characters. Our nineteen-year-old daughter still does the voice for Princess Pirate. We are also in the process of writing a new Easter Musical.
Where can people find your music?
They can purchase any Patch the Pirate recordings and our other music through majestymusic.com.