“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. That was my first employment following medical school, and in those days internship and residency salaries were mostly 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 generally had one nice dinner together every 2 weeks, followed by lots of burgers and hot dogs on most other dinner dates which were few. The hospital did provide my meals free as part of my compensation package, but I don’t recall ever taking Cathy to the hospital for a romantic 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, Cathy’s home church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. We had awaited 2 significant events which had to occur prior to setting our wedding. First I had to get a 4 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 4 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 1 month vacation in August after serving the first month of my residency.

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 that our wedding would be the first major event in the renovated sanctuary. I believe her Dad was receiving extra pressure from her Mom, 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 during those days were filled with excited anticipation and joy, and I loved reading and hearing all of the details. I completed my work at Grady Hospital in Atlanta and packed my few belongings to move to New Orleans.

Following my move and the month of transitional work in surgery in New Orleans, I packed my clothes for our wedding and honeymoon 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 are worth remembering in a future post.

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 Park Temple, 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, that people would be looking at my shoe soles during the wedding. Besides, I had gotten the hole patched and considered that 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; get a good pair of shoes and “send him the bill.” He had never made such an offer to me that I could remember. He apparently had some prior experience 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, so we made an outing there one morning. The store had been in business for many years and was indeed the premier shoe store in 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 that were really 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. At this point 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 to me 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 extreme pressure and 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 in itself was quite an experience. I had to wait for the arrival of the actual license before the Indian Rocks Medical Clinic could begin operations, so the official opening date was the first week in February, 2000.

Following opening of the clinic for patient care, we began treating a few patients each day. We anticipated a slow start until general awareness of the clinic availability occurred, and we anticipated this would take a couple of 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, and we did not have a volunteer technician to take and develop the films. In a few weeks I was able to take satisfactory (but not great) films, and this made me appreciate more fully the value of trained x-ray techs. I was glad to finally be doing the health care ministry to which I believed God had called me. It certainly was different from the surgical profession I had in the Air Force for 2 years and in El Dorado for 29 years!

After  approximately two months of clinic experience I began having serious doubts about our 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 board matters, and as Medical Director I did not have the final authority for making any decisions in the operation of the clinic. In effect, I was an employee of the board, whose chairman happened to be 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 settled in her ideas of how the clinic was to be operated. The second event was the decision made by the board following my arrival to transition the clinic to not only a minor emergency clinic but a general 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 my professional skill levels, and the medical liability risks in Florida were much too high for me to continue without additional training.

I appealed to Pastor Martin to intercede for me by having the clinic by-laws changed giving me the control of the clinic, and in addition convince his wife to step down as chairman. It had become evident we were not able to work harmoniously together. He said he was not able or willing to do either one. 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 under my direction.

There was great sadness in Cathy and me over what seemed I had missed God’s call for our lives. We prayed about 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, along with the loud barking of their dog Scout! Amidst all the initial excitement of the new ministry in Florida, Cathy and I had deeply missed the closeness of our children and grandchildren in Arkansas.

The next big steps involved selling our Florida home which unfortunately fell on the shoulders of Cathy, since I had to move to Arkansas as quickly as possible to find a job. Cathy had become very skilled in marketing and selling homes, and we prayed for a fast sale. She began the arduous task of once again packing our household items to prepare for the move once the sale was complete. 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 2-3 months without a 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 will of God and was now a 60-year-old physician without a job!! Driving alone without Cathy to encourage me, I had a huge pity party and didn’t invite anyone to sorrow with me. It continued for many miles and perhaps 6 to 8 hours. It “just happened” I had the radio tuned to a station in Tennessee near Memphis. A song began playing that got my full attention; “God will make a way when 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 that song, tears of thanksgiving and repentance ran down my face. I almost had to stop driving because it was such an emotional moment for me. 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 day while driving outside Memphis, and just about the time I drove into the traffic of the city, I got a call from Cathy who excitedly told me she just sold the house for our asking price! I got so excited for her and for us, I took a wrong turn; got lost in Memphis, and it took an extra 15 minutes before I found the correct road. I didn’t fuss or fume one minute like I normally would, because I was continuing to sing 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 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 me ordained as a minister with full ministerial duties such as preaching, hospital visitation and baptism along marrying and burying privileges. All this would authenticate to the church body the clinic was a ministry of the church and not just 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 33 years earlier I didn’t think I could pass the extremely difficult  exam at that time. 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 licence by reciprocity and did not have to take the exam. I did not check any further into the state medical laws of Florida, which was a great mistake on my part! 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 like all the pieces for us to make such a major move were falling into place.

Following a visit to Largo and interviewing with the people associated with the clinic, we agreed to accept their offer and make the move there 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 29 years in El Dorado.  I was convinced this was the will of God, and although Cathy was not so convinced, she chose to go willingly while honoring my decision to go.

No sooner had we begun settling into the new home we purchased in Clearwater (a few miles away) in October of 1999, I learned 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 10 years. I had never been required to take such an exam in general surgery! My only reasonable 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 6-8 hours daily in my newly furnished clinic office preparing for  the exam. I tried not to think of the significant 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 in the class 5 people attended, and only 2 of those sweet folks were able to walk without the use of a cane or walker. We began loving on our class members by having fellowships and dinner meetings, and within 6 months the class attendance increased to over 70 dear saints! The rapid growth of the class was one of the highlights of our time in Florida.

I began my additional ministries to the entire church family by attending church staff meetings; becoming acquainted with the 20+ staff members; making church hospital visits; baptizing at least 6 new believers and even preaching a sermon one Sunday evening! Pastor Martin scheduled my ordination into the gospel ministry for the last week in November. That process required my sitting before an ordination council of 15 ordained ministers and answering all questions concerning my understanding of Biblical theology, Baptist church doctrine and clearly describing to them my personal spiritual journey.

The ordination service was a spiritual high for Cathy and me. All of our children and grandchildren were able to be present, and that was especially wonderful for us. My sister Marilyn and husband George 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 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 come to Florida. The entire weekend was the definite highlight of Florida experience to date, but the following week the dreaded test lay ahead.

The first week in December I drove to Tampa and took the 8 hour computerized test which was another first for me. In the previous 55 years of test taking experience, I had never used a computer to take an examination. For the following 3 weeks our anxiety level was very high awaiting the test results, but I finally received written notification that I had made a passing score!! There is no way to describe the sense of relief Cathy and I experienced. The last piece in our quest for licensure was an interview with the full Florida Medical Board in Orlando in January, 2000.  ——to be continued

Dr John