“Berry, Get That Boy A New Pair Of Shoes!”

Wingtip Shoes

Wingtip Shoes

Cathy and I met in 1964 in Atlanta, Georgia during my internship year at Grady Memorial Hospital. This was my first employment following medical school, and in those days internship and residency salaries were below poverty levels. Interns at Grady were paid $175 per month, and after taxes and Social Security were deducted, I received a whopping check from the hospital for $79 every 2 weeks! Needless to say I was not financially able to lavish expensive dinners and gifts on Cathy during our courtship. We usually had one nice dinner out together every 2 weeks, followed by lots of burgers and hot dogs on most other dinner dates which were few. The hospital did provide free meals for me as part of my compensation package, but I don’t recall taking Cathy to the hospital for a romantic hospital meal.

I proposed marriage to Cathy in the spring of 1965, and we set a wedding date for August 7, 1965 at Park Temple Methodist Church which was her home church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We had awaited two significant events which had to occur prior to setting the wedding date. I had to get a four year military deferment from active duty in the Air Force. The war in Vietnam was in full swing, and the Air Force was taking doctors right out of internship into the military. Then I had to secure a four year residency assignment, which I did in the LSU Surgery Department in New Orleans. The deferment was secured and my residency was to begin on July 1, 1965. The wedding date was set, and I scheduled a one month vacation in August after the first month of employment.

Cathy’s Dad George Young was one of the premier building contractors in South Florida, and during the early months of 1965 his company began a major renovation of Park Temple Church. We were given assurance the renovations would be completed in time for our wedding, and Cathy was especially excited our wedding would be the first major event in the renovated sanctuary. I’m confident her Dad was receiving extra pressure from his wife  Virginia to make certain the work was completed on time!

Those days of summer in 1965 were extremely busy for both Cathy and me. She was in Fort Lauderdale making all her preparations for the big event while attending wedding showers given by her family and friends. The letters and phone calls I received from her were filled with excited anticipation and joy, and I loved reading and hearing all of the details. I completed my work at Grady Hospital and packed my few belongings for the move to New Orleans.

Following the move and the month of transitional work in New Orleans, I packed my clothes  into my red Corvair Monza convertible and drove to Fort Lauderdale. To say I had some pre-wedding anxiety would be a huge understatement. I knew I loved Cathy and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, but I didn’t know her family very well, and the culture of South Florida was completely foreign to this South Arkansan. I wanted to make as good an impression as possible and purposed to dress as nicely as I could afford. As part of my wedding wardrobe, I noticed my dress shoes, which were at least 7-8 years old were showing significant wear. I found a good cobbler in New Orleans and had the shoes refurbished including a half-sole. I thought they looked almost new.

My Mom and Pops were able to make the wedding trip, along with Bubba and his oldest child Lydia who was 11 years old. My Aunt Lillie Mae accompanied Bubba and Lydia on their flight to Fort Lauderdale, and their experiences on the trip were memorable.

The wedding was beautiful and the newly finished sanctuary was stunning in its’ elegant detail. Cathy was by far the central figure of the wedding, and she was absolutely gorgeous! I was very nervous and prayed I would not make any blunders like falling down or fainting or doing anything which would draw attention to me or detract from Cathy. As we knelt at the altar at one point for a commitment prayer by the Senior Pastor of the church, I couldn’t hear it but was told my Mom gasped when she saw my newly half-soled shoes. I had not thought when I had the cobbler work done people would be looking at my shoe soles during the wedding. Besides, I had gotten the hole patched and considered this more than sufficient.

During the reception Mom asked me when I had gotten my shoes fixed, and I told her just prior to the wedding. She turned to Pops and said to him, “Berry, you need to get this boy a new pair of shoes for his wedding present.” He thought that was a good idea and said when we returned to New Orleans, I should go to the Imperial Shoe Store on Canal Street to purchase a good pair of shoes and “send him the bill.” I don’t recall him ever making such an offer to me. He apparently had prior experiences with the Imperial Shoe Store.

When Cathy and I returned to New Orleans during our honeymoon month we discovered the Imperial Shoe Store was downtown near the beginning of Canal Street. The store had been in business for many years and was indeed the premier shoe store of New Orleans catering to the wealthy clients of the city. When a well dressed salesman approached us, I said something to him I had never said to any salesman before; “I would like the most expensive pair of shoes you have in the store!” His eyes brightened, and he said he assumed I wanted a pair of dress and not casual shoes. He brought me a pair of wingtip cordovan Johnston & Murphy shoes which were beautiful. They fit perfectly, and I purchased them without asking the price. He agreed to send Pop the bill when he discovered I was a resident physician at Charity Hospital living on poverty level wages. It was then the salesman told me the shoes were $125 plus tax.

I wish I could have been present when Pop received the bill for the wedding gift Mom had urged him to give. To Pop’s credit, he never complained about the cost of the best shoes I ever owned. I wore them regularly to church and special events for the next 15 years, and they always looked nice and felt great!

Dr. John

PS: The comparable value of $125 in 1965 in today’s economy is almost $950. What a wedding gift!

“God Will Make A Way” – Our Ministry in Florida (Part 2)

Moving From Florida May 2000

Moving From Florida in May, 2000

The pressure and the fear of failure was lifted from both Cathy and me when I was notified I had successfully passed the Florida Medical Board exam. The personal interview with the full board in Orlando in January, 2000 was a formality but still was quite an experience. I had to await the arrival of the license before the Indian Rocks Medical Clinic could begin operations, so the official opening date was set for the first week in February.

Following opening of the clinic we began treating a few patients each day. We anticipated a slow start until there was a general awareness of the clinic. and we anticipated this would take several months. One piece of medical equipment I was learning to use was the x-ray machine. We had a reasonably good machine donated along with a film developer but did not have a volunteer technician to take and develop the films. Within a few weeks I was able to take satisfactory films, and this made me appreciate more fully the value of x-ray techs. I was glad to finally be doing the health care ministry to which I believed God had called me. It was certainly different from the surgical practice of the previous thirty-one years.

After two months of clinic operation I began having serious doubts about my future at The Indian Rocks Medical Clinic. There were two significant events which greatly affected my continuation as Medical Director. One was already in place when I arrived, and early on I had missed its’ significance. In the by-laws of the clinic structure the Medical Director was an ex-officio member of the clinic board. This meant I had no vote on clinic operation matters, and as Medical Director did not have final authority. In effect, I was an employee of the board, whose chairman was the pastor’s wife, and she had been the driving force for the founding of the clinic. Despite the fact she had no prior medical experience, she was very adamant on how the clinic was to be operated. The second event was the decision made by the board following my arrival to transition from a strictly minor emergency clinic to a general medical clinic as well. This meant we would accept church members for medical care which might include treatment of diabetes, hypertension and heart trouble. These primary care problems were outside of my professional skill levels, and the medical liability risks in Florida were much too great for me without taking additional training.

I appealed to Pastor Martin to intercede by having the clinic by-laws changed giving me the control of the clinic, and to make me chairman of the board. It had become evident I was not able to work harmoniously with the current chairman. He said he was not able or willing to make those changes. I told him my only option was to resign, and I felt badly about leaving after such a short tenure. I had desperately wanted the clinic to succeed.

There was great sadness in Cathy and me over what seemed I had misread God’s call for our lives. We prayed and decided our next move should be to Fayetteville, Arkansas where our daughter Ginny and husband John Luther lived. Our sorrow was turned to joy when we made the phone call to Ginny to tell her our decision. Her first comment was, “You are not kidding me, are you?” When we assured her we were moving there, she put the phone down and began whooping, hollering and dancing which we could hear through our phone. Her dog Scout joined in the celebration with loud barking. Amidst all the initial excitement of the start-up of the ministry in Florida, Cathy and I had greatly missed our children and grandchildren in Arkansas.

The next big step involved selling our Florida home which unfortunately fell on the shoulders of Cathy. I had to move to Arkansas as quickly as possible to find a job. Cathy had become  skilled in marketing and selling homes, and we prayed for a fast sale. She alone began the arduous task of once more packing all our household items. Ginny and John found an apartment for us in a good location which was just a few miles from the hospital. We decided I should load a U-Haul trailer with enough furniture for temporary living and proceed to Fayetteville to interview for a possible job in the wound care field. I hated leaving Cathy alone in Florida, but financially we had only enough savings to live for two to three months without some source of income.

The morning I drove alone away from our Clearwater home was one of the saddest days of my life. I felt like not only a failure in my profession, but a spiritual failure as well. I believed I had missed the call of God and was now a 60 year old physician without a job. Without Cathy to encourage me on the trip, I had a huge pity party and didn’t invite anyone to attend. It continued for many miles and for at least six to eight hours. It “just happened” I had the radio tuned to a Christian station in the Memphis area. A song began playing which got my full attention; “God will make a way where there seems to be no way. He works in ways we cannot see– God will make a way for me. He will be my guide, hold me closely to His side. With love and strength for each new day- He will make a way– God will make a way.” As I listened to all the verses of the song, tears of thanksgiving and repentance ran down my face. I had to stop driving for ten to fifteen minutes, because it was such a powerful and emotional experience. I asked God to forgive me for not trusting His sovereignty, and I would purpose to follow wherever He leads and not look back.

My entire attitude changed that morning while driving outside Memphis, and just about the time I got into the traffic of the city, I got a telephone call from Cathy. She excitedly told me she had just sold the house for our asking price. I got so excited I took a wrong turn, got lost in Memphis, and it took an extra 15 minutes to locate the correct road. I didn’t fuss or fume one minute like I usually would have, because I was continuing the song in my heart, “God will make a way—.”

Dr. John

“God Will Make A Way” – Our Ministry in Florida (Part 1)

Moving from Florida

Moving to Florida in October, 1999

There are thousands of excited folks moving to Florida every year and tens of thousands more who would love to move to the Sunshine State. Cathy and I were very excited to move to Largo, Florida in October, 1999 with visions of beginning a new health care ministry there.

The First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks had been working for over a year on plans for a church-based health clinic when they contacted me in the spring of 1999 to consider becoming their first medical director. Initially I was intrigued with the concept and fully believed health care and healing should be part of the ministry of the church. However, I didn’t think a clinic like this would be a good fit for a surgeon. The organizers at the church had proposed the clinic to be a minor emergency room clinic with walk-in patients needing treatment for various acute and sub-acute problems. It was not planned to be a family  practice clinic for treating chronic illnesses such as hypertension, diabetes, heart disease or chronic pediatric problems. I felt confident in my medical abilities to manage such a walk-in clinic.

In addition the physician would function as the sports medicine doctor for the large Christian school which was part of the church and  would have the privilege of lecturing in the school on health related issues. I was also told the church wanted to ordain me as a minister with full ministerial duties such as preaching, hospital visitation and baptism along with marrying and burying privileges. This would authenticate to the church body the clinic was a ministry of the church and not simply a free standing medical clinic.

In my early discussions with Pastor Charlie Martin I told him there were 2 major obstacles for our coming; the care of my aged Mom who was 89, and the requirement in Florida for taking and passing the Florida state medical exam. When I graduated from medical school thirty three years earlier I didn’t think then I could pass the extremely difficult exam. A physician member of the FBCIR (First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks) Clinic Board reviewed the requirements for physician licensing and reported to Pastor Martin a board certified physician in surgery could receive a Florida medical license by reciprocity and was not required to take the exam. I did not fact check the state medical laws of Florida which was a serious mistake. In the meantime Cathy had found a wonderful, sweet Christian named Minnie Springer who agreed to be the full-time care giver for Mom. It seemed the obstacles for us to make the move had been removed.

Following a visit to Largo and interviewing with the people associated with the clinic, we  accepted their offer and planned our move in the fall of 1999. Cathy and I had spent hours together in discussion and prayer before coming to such a life-altering decision. We would be leaving home, family, church family and countless friends we had made for the previous twenty-nine years in El Dorado.  I was convinced this was the will of God, and although Cathy was not as convinced, she chose to go willingly while honoring my decision.

No sooner had we settled into the home we purchased in Clearwater (a few miles away) in October of 1999, I discovered the information I was given concerning the Florida Medical Board was only partially true. A board certified physician requesting a reciprocity license must have taken a re-certification exam in his specialty within the previous ten years. I had never been required to take such an exam in general surgery. My only option at this point was to begin studying for the exam which was to be given in Tampa in early December.

I immediately began spending six to eight hours daily studying for  the exam. I tried not to think of the consequences for failing to make a passing score. In the meantime Cathy and I immersed ourselves into the ministry of the church by agreeing to teach a senior adult Bible class. On our first Sunday five people attended, and only two of those sweet folks were able to walk without the use of a cane or walker. One required a wheelchair. We began loving on our class members by having fellowships and dinner meetings, and within six months the class attendance increased to over seventy. The rapid growth of the class was one of the highlights of our time in Florida.

I began my additional ministries to the church family by attending weekly church staff meetings and became acquainted with the twenty plus staff members. I made hospital visits, baptized at least six new believers and even preached the sermon one Sunday evening. Pastor Martin scheduled my ordination into the gospel ministry for the last week in November. The process required sitting for two hours before an ordination council of fifteen ministers and answer all their questions concerning my understanding of Biblical theology and Baptist church doctrine. They also asked me to describe my spiritual journey to this point.

The ordination service was a spiritual high for Cathy and me. All of our children and grandchildren were able to be present which was especially wonderful. My sister Marilyn and husband George Berry from Austin, Texas were able to attend. Cathy’s brother George and wife Dawn came from Fort Lauderdale along with her nephew Clay Selfridge from Kissimmee, Florida. My brother Berry Lee (Bubba) and one of his daughter’s, Rachel Uth from West Monroe, Louisiana also attended. Our good friend and evangelist Bill Stafford from Chattanooga, Tennessee came and both he and Bubba delivered the ordination sermons. The ordination was held on the Sunday following Thanksgiving which was helpful in allowing so many of our family members to travel to Florida. The weekend was a definite highlight of our Florida experience, but the the dreaded medical board test lay ahead the next week.

The first week in December I drove to Tampa and took the eight hour computerized test which was another first for me. In the previous fifty-five years of test taking I had never used a computer to take an examination. For the next three weeks our anxiety level was extremely high awaiting the test results, but I finally received written notification I had passed!! The final requirement for licensure was an interview with the full Florida Medical Board in Orlando one month later. To be continued ……

Dr. John