We were commanded by the Lord Jesus Christ at His ascension into heaven that we all be witnesses for Him into all the world (Matt. 28: 18-20). That includes all believers living in a town named El Dorado in South Arkansas, and those who may be working at a car wash located on Northwest Avenue. Such a place for a short time was the focus of the ministry of a man named James Gray who took this Lord’s command very seriously.
James was an employee of the tiny car wash I frequently used, because it was conveniently located between my home and the hospital. I’m not certain how long he had worked there when I first saw him in the early 1980’s, but later learned his tenure there was not long. He was easy to pick out of a crowd because of his particular stride. He had some type of medical issue with his left hip or leg, because he walked with a noticeable limp, and his pace was always fast. He wore a corrective shoe with an elevated heel on the left, and those shoes appeared to be at least 10 years old. All his clothes were old, but he never appeared dirty or unkept. He had a full head of hair which was neatly combed, but it looked as if he cut his own hair. One very distinctive of James was the well-worn King James version of the Bible he always carried except during the time he was washing cars. I would occasionally spot him during his break time, and he would either be reading his Bible or using it in conversations with his fellow workers. I once asked if I might see his Bible and even though the binding was intact, it was obvious he had read and studied every page over a long period of time. The corners of many pages were turned down, and not just a few of the pages had greasy finger prints.
After observing James at his car wash ministry for over a period of at least 6 months, I drove into the station one morning and didn’t see James in his usual place. I asked one of the employees if James was off that day, to which he responded, “James was fired last week because he was annoying everyone with his constant talk about Jesus.” My only response was I was proud of James for his witness for Jesus, and his only reason for talking to you guys so much was because he really cared for you and your future. The listener only shrugged his shoulders and said, “Oh well.”
While having my car washed that particular morning and thinking about James’ firing I concluded my priorities for life and living were upside down. As I sat in my expensive automobile, dressed in a tailored suit and preparing to go to work as a well respected surgeon, I more fully understood God’s economy for success was opposite from the world’s view. The majority of people including myself at the time, desire a comfortable life style which includes a generous salary, a nice home with a well-watered lawn, expensive clothing and rich, tasty food on our tables. None of these worldly things are wicked or sinful in themselves, but when they become the objects of our desires and the focus of our lives, the god of this world has snared us into his trap.
Our Lord warned us not to love the world nor the things of this world, because they would lead us away from Him. (I John 2:15-17). James Gray didn’t have many of the things the world says are important, but he had a huge heart for God, and for the things which God says are not only important but essential to obey and follow Him. He didn’t care if obeying God cost him his job just so long as he loved God first and loved his fellow workers by showing them the way to God. That morning was a turning point for me, because James showed me what was really important in life, and he was not even there. I distinctly remembered thinking, “I wish I could be more like James Gray because he was so much like Jesus.”
My Dad (Pop) used to tell me about a large loggerhead turtle he and some of his friends caught while on a fishing trip to Lagle Lake (Creek) years ago. He never described any details of the capture, but just the fact the turtle was huge, and the men all got a meal from it. He always said, “A turtle has 7 kinds of meat, and each one of them is delicious.” I always believed him but never tested his assertions by having a meal of turtle. In an email conversation several years ago with Isaac Wilson, Jr. I received more information concerning the event which he well remembered and reprint it here with Ike’s permission. As a young boy Ike was there at Lagle Lake with his Dad, Isaac Wilson Sr. who was Pop’s best friend.
The camping and fishing party on Lagle Lake included Pop, Ike Wilson and son Ike Jr., Ike’s brother in law John from Illinois, and JC Pendleton from El Dorado. JC was the owner and manager of Griffin Auto Company in El Dorado which was the Chevrolet dealer for the area. Here is a reprint of the email sent on January 15, 2018:
“When I was young your Dad, along with my Dad, my mother’s brother John from Illinois, and JC Pendleton had gone to Lagle Lake. That evening we set out trot lines and yo-yo’s. The next morning we woke up with your Dad yelling, “Bring my medical bag!” It scared us all as we knew he was out in the boat, fearing something tragic had happened. We hurried and got into a boat to try to reach him. When we found him we could see he was holding the trot line, and we knew he must have caught a big fish. The “big fish” was pulling his boat through the water, but we discovered that it was actually a big loggerhead turtle hooked on the trotline.
When your Dad started pulling the turtle up I remember the turtle opening his mouth and it looked like a whirlpool of water rushing through it. We still couldn’t quite tell how big the turtle was, but knew it was huge. Your Dad yelled, “Give me my bag, and I’ll take care of this turtle!” He pulled out a bottle of pills and managed to pour the entire bottle down his throat. He dropped the trotline which we hadn’t expected. Dr. Moore told us the turtle would be taken care of in about 45 minutes, and we could come back and retrieve the trotline, turtle and all. When we went back the turtle was lifeless. We tried to get the turtle into the boat to no avail. Because of his weight and size we were afraid he’d tip the boat over or sink it. We took a rope and tied the turtle to the bow of the boat and headed to shore. When we made it to shore we were able to drag him up the bank, and I remember his back looking like it was about 2 1/2 feet wide. It had to weigh at least 150 + pounds. It’s back was covered with green slime and a couple of inches of mud. Your Dad took the turtle, flipped it over and started field dressing him. He described each part as he dissected him. We had turtle for dinner that night.
My Uncle John from Illinois wanted the shell. We thought he was crazy, but a few years later when my parents and I went to Illinois we saw he had made a small coffee table from the shell. The finished work was a beautiful shell that looked like leather.
Thank God for Dr. Moore’s medical bag!”
Ike Wilson Jr. has become quite a story teller just like his Dad, and I was so thankful to get the more complete account of the Loggerhead turtle meal down on Lagle Lake so many years ago. I have wondered what kind of pills Pop poured down that turtle’s throat that morning, and believe they were Dilaudid pills which Pop usually kept in his bag when he made house calls. They are very potent narcotics and certainly would have killed the turtle in a short time. Presumably the narcotic didn’t have time to get out into the turtle meat, otherwise there might have been some seriously ill fishermen on the shores of Lagle Lake that night!
Near the close of 1999 Cathy and I moved to Largo, Florida where I was hired to become the first medical director of a church-based medical clinic in the First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks. The decision to move was as painful as it was life-changing. I believed God had called me to leave a life-long profession in general surgery to manage a Christ centered medical office which was a ministry of a church. Cathy and I were leaving our home, our children, our grandchildren, our church and our life-long friends to settle in a community where we were unknown.
We faced some unforeseen problems with the move, with my Florida medical license and with the full acceptance of the church staff. I have written about some of the obstacles and victories in previous posts. (God Will Make A Way, Parts 1 & 2, Apr. 2016).
The clinic opened for patient care in February, 2000, and we had a complete staff of volunteers, who were as excited to begin as I was. There are so many details to opening and managing a medical clinic, and I had little prior experience in many of the operational aspects of such a venture. One significant hurdle was interacting with the volunteers who were relative strangers. At this point Cathy and I had been church members for only 3 months and had not had time to develop stable relationships. One volunteer who was particularly challenging had a major role in clinic, and there were several occasions in which we disagreed on clinic policies. We were able to work through the issues, but there was some continuing conflict and disagreement.
One morning before clinic opened I was cleaning up my newly furnished consultation room and noted there was a lot of gummy mess on a piece of new furniture. I stepped into the foyer of the office and asked the volunteers, “Do you know where’s the Goo Gone?”
Probably everyone who has been involved in home improvements is familiar with the product Goo Gone. I don’t remember using it until the 1990’s, but it was developed in Cleveland, Ohio in 1984 by a company called Magic American. It is a citrus based product for the removal of greasy, sticky substances and even clothing stains. As all users discover it works very well and leaves a pleasant citrus odor behind. I had seen a bottle of the product in the clinic when we first moved in.
After I asked the question of the volunteers about the Goo Gone, one of them said, “I think she is in a meeting this morning.” I said, “How can Goo Gone be in a meeting? I’m just looking for our bottle of the stuff.” All of a sudden it dawned us I was asking about a product, and she was talking about a person! We all broke down into laughter after the responder said, “I thought you were now calling her The Goo!” “I would never do that”, I said, “and we must all promise we will never tell her about this conversation. “We never did, and to the best of my knowledge “The Goo” never heard the account.
Front Row: Gaye Mitchell, Bette Wilson, Reba McDuffie
Middle Row: Dr. Eldon Tommey, Dr. Moises Menendez, Sandy Dennis. Betty Tucker, Toni Polk, Janice Fitzgerald, Diana Cardin, Faye Evans, Dr. Robert Tommey
Back Row: Dr. David Yocum, David Love, Brenda Murphree, Dr. Bill Scurlock, Dr. John Moore, Kathy Hicks, Lori Haynie
I began my private practice of general surgery in November, 1971 in my hometown of El Dorado, Arkansas following an active duty assignment in the United States Air Force. I was able to serve our country from 1969 to 1971 as the only surgeon at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Georgia. Cathy and I were thankful for the privilege of serving in this manner and were grateful I was not given a duty assignment in Vietnam where the war was raging during those years.
Deciding to go back home was not too difficult, because my brother Berry Lee (Bubba) had been there in Family Practice since 1957, and I was joining him in his newly built office. The office was located between the two hospitals which were 4 blocks apart. It seemed initially like an ideal situation, since he would be referring all of his surgical patients to me. The problem was I would also be treating some general medical patients, in addition to taking care of his medical patients when I was on call. I was not adequately trained to treat hypertension, diabetes, heart problems and other general medical problems. I had to learn those treatment skills in addition to treating my own surgical patients. It was not the best situation, but the real problem was in trying to have a referral surgical practice. The other family doctors in town were not inclined to refer their patients to me thinking those patients might not return to their care following their operation. After 2 years of serving with Bubba in his office we both decided a change was needed for my sake.
There were 3 other general surgeons at the time in El Dorado who practiced in the same office; Dr. David Yocum, Dr. Eldon Tommey and Dr. Bill Scurlock. Early in 1974 I approached them with a request to join them to which they quickly consented. We decided the name of our newly formed clinic would be The Surgical Clinic of South Arkansas. On April 1, 1974 I officially began my surgical career with the group and would continue with them throughout our time of living in El Dorado. Kathy Hicks, our receptionist also began her career on that date and continued to serve beyond my retirement in late 1999. In the ensuing years our clinic would add two other surgeons; Dr. Moises Menendez and Dr. Robert Tommey who is Dr. Eldon Tommey’s son.
The support office staff was led by Faye Evans who had been employed by Drs. Yocum and Dr. Tommey in 1953. Her knowledge and expertise in office management was unparalleled, and although she was kind, her relationship skills were considered by some too rigid. There was never a question of who was in charge of the support staff, and her decisions were always made in light of what was best for the clinic. I quickly adapted to this new practice style and adjusted to working in a much larger clinic. As we added the two additional surgeons the staff of nurses and support staff also increased.
Throughout the years there was such an attitude of peace and unity of purpose at the Surgical Clinic, the support staff dubbed themselves as “The Best Bunch.” There was such harmony and minimal competitiveness it was a pleasure to work there each day. Initially the clinic was located on North Washington Street near downtown, but eventually moved to the campus of The Medical Center of South Arkansas (MCSA) when the hospital built an office for us. The setting was ideal because we could park our cars at the office and walk next door to the hospital. Even though there remained two hospitals throughout my career, the majority of our surgical procedures were done at MCSA instead of Warner Brown Hospital.
After Dr. Menendez and Dr. Robert joined the clinic in the latter part of the 1970’s, the clinic added David Love as a Surgical Assistant. David had been trained in the U.S. Navy as a medical corpsman and later received specific and more specialized training at the University Hospital in Birmingham, Alabama. He was first assistant on our cases in the operating room and took night call with us on emergency cases. He became a valuable part of our team and worked with all the surgeons for the following 25 + years. I did thousands of operative cases with David, and he was the most skilled assistant I ever worked alongside.
The nursing staff was outstanding with Reba McDuffie as the most experienced office nurse. She had worked with Dr. Eldon Tommey as his nurse since he began with Dr. Yocum in the early 1950’s. Because their practice was slower in the earlier years she also assisted Dr. Yocum in the office. As more surgeons were added so were additional nurses. Sandy Dennis assisted Dr. Scurlock in the office while Toni Polk was my nurse. She also accompanied me in the operating room, and was the lead surgical nurse on every case including emergency cases. When Dr. Menendez joined the clinic his office nurse was Brenda Murphree who also assisted him on all of his operative cases. It was a special blessing to have our own nurses assist us in the operating room, because they knew the exact instruments and sutures we needed for every case. Their particular skills made each case go more quickly and safely.
An additional blessing we had was having our own nurse anesthetist, Betty Wilson giving anesthesia to our patients. She started working with Drs. Yocum and Tommey in the 1960’s and continued until her retirement in December, 1983. She was an outstanding anesthetist and safely served our patients for all of her practice years.
In the early years of my practice there were a few of the family physicians who continued doing surgical procedures, but by the time Dr. Menendez joined the clinic, our staff were the only general surgeons within a 30 mile radius of El Dorado. My surgical colleagues were outstanding men of character and surgical skill. I was continually learning from them, and our personal relationships with each other were an added blessing. Each man was devoted to his wife and family, was a regular church attender and did not use beverage alcohol. There was never a time when I heard one of my colleagues use foul language or tell an off-color story or joke. The conversations in the operating room were always professional and never profane. I learned from earlier experiences while in training these character qualities were not often seen in surgeons.
I thank my God for the 25 years I worked with the staff of The Surgical Clinic of South Arkansas. Working in a surgical environment can at times be extremely demanding and stressful, but I can truthfully say I thoroughly enjoyed going to work every day. All of my remembrances are good ones, and it is because I was working with and for a wonderful group called The Best Bunch.
Our two years of active duty in the US Air Force in many ways were good ones. Because I was the sole surgeon at the base hospital I had been able to work pretty much independently with only a few of the usual military restrictions. I had avoided duty in Viet Nam, and our country’s military involvement there was beginning to wind down. Our family had increased by one with the birth of Mary Katharine on February 10, 1970. Our son John Aaron was almost four years old at the time of her birth. We lived close enough to Cathy’s parents in Fort Lauderdale, Florida which allowed us the freedom to visit and enjoy her family every few months. We loved the small town life of Valdosta, Georgia, and although there was an abundance of good churches there was no spiritual hunger in either one of us. We occasionally attended First Methodist Church and had Mary Kay baptized there when she was several months old.
By the middle of 1971 we made the final decision to move our family to El Dorado, Arkansas to begin my surgical practice. Cathy’s family wanted us to move to South Florida, and it was very tempting on many levels. My family’s medical ties in El Dorado and the relatively quiet and peaceful atmosphere were huge deciding factors. We certainly did not pray about our decision but relied on our best judgements. Our moving date was August 17, 1971 when I was released from active military duty.
Cathy and I moved into a very nice 3 bedroom rental home on East Ninth Street in El Dorado which was about 4 blocks away from my Mom’s home on North Madison. It was owned by our friends, Henry and Venie Craig who lived two doors west of us. They had maintained the home very well and had it freshly painted inside and out just before we arrived. Our rental payments were very reasonable, and we were happy with our arrangement and new friendship with the Craig’s. Our plan was to rent for a year or two until we could save enough money to either build or purchase a permanent home.
On the fateful day of Cathy’s accident which was on November 11, both she and I had been recovering from upper respiratory tract infections. As I left the house very early my last words to her were, “Why don’t you open our bedroom window and air out the room for a couple of hours.” My attitude that particular morning was not the best, and my statement was more on the order of a command rather than a suggestion. I had one surgical case scheduled morning and it was a gall bladder removal which usually took 1-2 hours.
As I finished the procedure I was in the recovery room writing post-operative orders when the hospital telephone operator notified me I had an urgent call from my wife. (This was long before cell phones). Upon answering Cathy was almost screaming, “You need to come home right now. I’ve cut my foot!” I thought perhaps she had dropped a glass and cut the sole of her foot, because she usually walked around the house bare footed. I didn’t delay however, but dressed quickly and drove home in about ten minutes.
Upon arrival there were three cars in the driveway which increased my anxiety. As I opened the door to the kitchen, Cathy was sitting on the floor in a huge pool of blood with a thick towel wrapped around her right ankle. I estimated there was 1/2 pint of blood on the floor. Mary Kay was standing behind her holding her security blanket and with her eyes widened in fright. My Mom was standing in the kitchen in an almost a state of shock, but said she had called an ambulance. As I applied more pressure to the wound I told Mom to get me a sheet for a tourniquet, and because of her shocked state of mind she said, “But they are brand new sheets.” After applying the tourniquet I could examine the wound more carefully. Cathy was more calm and said she had tried to open the bedroom window, and because of the new paint the window was stuck. She lay on her back on the bed and with her right foot kicked against the window sill. Her foot glanced off the sill, broke through the glass, and when she reflexly pulled back her foot she deeply lacerated her ankle. The Achilles tendon was severed as well as the main vein to her foot. Fortunately the artery was not severed or she might have bled to death before she could get help. We got her to the hospital quickly, and I had already alerted my surgeon friends Drs. Yocum and Tommey who met us in the ER.
Following the successful repair Cathy had to remain in the hospital overnight and was discharged the next day on crutches with a long leg cast on her right leg. I hired a full time care giver for the children because I had to continue in my new medical practice which was very small. Managing crutches and the discomfort of an ungainly cast was initially difficult for Cathy. Her pain was significant but controllable, but not being able to do her usual household tasks and care for our two small, active children was very difficult for her.
The woman we initially hired to care for the children seemed ideal. She had children of her own and was skilled in child care. In addition she was an excellent cook and prepared wonderful meals for our family. However, after about three weeks I received a phone call one morning at my office from the police department saying there was a problem with our care giver. She was caught in a grocery store stealing items for her own use. The embarrassing thing was she had our one and a half year old daughter Mary Kay with her. Someone recognized our daughter prior to them being transported to the jail, and this prompted the call to me. I drove to the jail to get Mary Kay, and found they were releasing the lady without bail while charging her with petty theft. I fired her immediately, and we began searching for her replacement.
So many people in El Dorado offered various kinds of assistance which showed us a depth of love we had not previously experienced. Neither Cathy nor I were Christians, and we saw the love of Christ poured out on us in kind acts and also in healing words. We began to deeply examine our life goals and our lack of any spiritual hunger with each other and with our children. We wanted to raise our children in a good environment which included church involvement. Early on we had joined First Baptist Church because that was where our family had been members for many years. We learned later church membership and faithful attendance are not the only indicators of Christianity.
There were some wonderful Christians who ministered to us during those weeks of recovery. They included Dave Dawson who lived in Greenville, Texas and was a Navigator friend of my brother Berry Lee. The Shepperson sisters and others along with Mrs. Garland Murphy Sr. who was 80 years old visited us and prepared meals for us often. Cathy’s Mom came from Fort Lauderdale to stay for a week to assist us in so many ways but especially with our children. There were others, but these made the largest impact. They not only served us food and kindness but also by healing words of what Jesus Christ was doing in both of us. All of these experiences were impactful at a time when we were young, inexperienced and vulnerable.
We learned among other great truths the Lord Jesus comes to the weak, the sick and the helpless with healing, with hope and with salvation. Cathy’s painful ordeal and the experiences of physical and emotional healing led us finally to surrender our lives to the salvation of Christ in 1977. What initially was a tragic accident was used by God to totally transform us. To Him be all the glory!
In May 2000 Cathy and I joyfully packed our belongings in Clearwater, Florida and moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas where I was to become one of four medical directors of the Wound Care Clinic of Washington Regional Medical Center. This was to be my first experience in full time wound care having been a general surgeon for 35 years and doing wound care and hyperbaric medicine as a secondary profession. The other 3 directors were actively practicing general surgeons.
The nursing director of the clinic was Diana Gallagher, RN who was very knowledgeable in the field and well respected by her peers in the nursing and wound care field. I learned the general protocol of the hospital from her and others while learning specific wound care principles and the multitude of wound dressing usages from her experience. She was a very able teacher while managing the clinic in a firm but caring manner. The hospital administration had given me permission to continue praying with patients when appropriate and did not object for me to engage patients in spiritual conversations. To my knowledge no other physician had interacted in this manner with patients in this clinic. My impression after about 6 months was most of the nurses encouraged and appreciated what I was doing while a very few were skeptical and perhaps even a little turned off. However, no one was openly critical to me.
In my second year as director I was invited by Mrs. Gallagher to speak in a conference for which she was the conference leader. It was to be held in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The conference was sponsored by the South Central Region of the Wound, Ostomy, and Continence Nurses, and she asked me to speak on Spirituality and Healing. I prepared for several months utilizing information from scientific journals, anecdotal stories concerning specific miraculous healings and personal experiences from my lengthy surgical career.
Several days prior to the conference I began having symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection and developed chills and fever. I knew Diana was counting on me for the presentation and was not going to cancel unless I was unable to speak. Cathy drove the 2 hours to Tulsa allowing me to rest as much as possible. My part on the program was in the early afternoon. Despite having fever and a very hoarse voice I was able to deliver the 45 minute speech, but I don’t remember much about the details of the events.
In my speech I attempted to answer 4 general questions regarding faith and healing; 1) Is God actively involved in healing today or is healing a natural process which was activated in the beginning? 2) What role does faith play in healing? 3)How is personal faith mobilized to activate healing? and 4) What should be my role as a health care provider in the process? I tried to interweave examples from the Bible of some of the miraculous healings in the Old and New Testaments with examples of healings I had eye-witnessed.
In my research I discovered the New Testament contains more than 75 references of the healing work of Jesus. The four gospels record more instances of healing by Christ than his preaching or teaching. In many examples of healing Jesus said to the one healed, “Your faith has made you well.” A great deal of data published in current scientific journals have shown people of faith have fewer illnesses and recover faster from serious illnesses with fewer complications than people who profess no religious affiliations.
It was interesting for me to find a journal article from Johns Hopkins University concerning church attendance and health. In a study involving over 90,000 people in Washington County, Maryland if people attended church 1 or more times per week they had a lower death rate from coronary artery disease, emphysema, cirrhosis and suicide. Another study from Dartmouth Medical School concluded the survival rate in elderly people undergoing open heart surgery was 3 times greater in regular church attenders than non-church attenders.
Modern science has only recently acknowledged the therapeutic benefits of prayer in healing. One of the first articles published in a recognized medical journal was in 1988 in the Southern Medical Journal written by Dr. Randolph Byrd. He concluded of the 393 heart patients in an ICU who had intercessory prayer over them had fewer complications, required less medication and had fewer deaths. Skeptics of his study and similar papers maintained there was no way to gauge the extent of prayer offered and the same results could have been achieved by chance. Those who are opposed to any positive effects of faith in healing will never be convinced otherwise. The Bible says, “Their eyes have been blinded by the God of this world.” (II Cor. 4: 3,4)
In concluding the presentation I challenged the attendees to consider their own beliefs in the Lord Jesus Christ and His claims regarding faith and physical health. I further asked they might begin praying with patients and open the door to discussion with patients of the correlation between spiritual and physical health.
By the time I finished the presentation my throat was so swollen I could barely speak, and my voice so hoarse I don’t see how they could understand what I was saying. The audience was so moved by my feeble efforts to finish they gave me a standing ovation for which I was shocked. In retrospect it was foolish for me to be there, because I certainly must have contaminated the entire conference with an influenza virus. At least I knew Cathy was praying for me, and within a few days I had recovered. I have no way of knowing how many attendees at the meeting developed the flu, but if any perhaps they applied some of the principles I tried to teach.
I am grateful for the heritage of my family and the positive influence for healing they provided for many years . My grandfather Dr. John Aaron Moore was a family physician in El Dorado, Arkansas for most of his medical practice life dating back to 1898. He was joined in his practice in 1934 by my Dad Dr. Berry Lee Moore Sr. (Pop), and the two of them served the people of El Dorado until my grandfather’s death in 1943. Pop was joined in his practice by my brother Dr. Berry Lee Moore, Jr. (Bubba) in 1957, and they served their community until 1966 when Pop died of heart failure. Upon completion of my training in 1971 I joined Bubba in his practice and continued serving as a surgeon in our hometown until 1999 when Cathy and I were called to serve for a year in Florida at a newly opened medical clinic of First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks. We moved back to Arkansas in 2000 to Fayetteville where I served in the field of wound care. We moved again in 2005 to Branson, Missouri to serve in a wound clinic until 2011 when I retired from the practice of medicine. Cathy and I continue serving the Lord through our First Baptist Church and as chaplains at The Free Medical Clinic.
Cathy and I were faithful church members in El Dorado during our children’s early years, and we purposed to raise our family according to Christian principles. We were living in our own strength and power, because we had not received the transforming power of the Lord Jesus Christ through His salvation. This all changed in August, 1977 when we received Christ into our lives and hearts. (A Shopping Trip To Dallas, Aug. 2012).
Prior to my conversion I had acknowledged only one experience which I attributed to a supernatural divine healing. I wrote about this event which occurred in 1973 in a previous blog (We’ve Done Everything Except Pray, Aug. 2012). My eyes were simply not open to the healing power of Christ which had been all around me. Not only were my eyes opened in 1977, but I had a loving wife who was encouraging me and a wonderful brother who began mentoring me. He taught me to begin living “not as a physician who happened to be a Christian, but as a Christian who happened to work in the medical field.” The difference between those two lifestyles is huge.
Bubba challenged me to pray with every patient prior to taking them into the operating room, and as much as possible to bring Christ and His healing power into every conversation. He emphasized every appointment with every patient was a divine appointment and to view it as otherwise could result in missing God’s purposes. My initial experiences of praying with patients were awkward and at times embarrassing, but I persisted knowing this was what God desired of me. In time it became easier, more natural and then established as a lifestyle of my relationship with patients. I always asked permission before praying, and over the next 35 years only had 2 people refuse to allow me to pray with them. One was a Jehovah’s Witness, and the other was a Baptist pastor’s wife who had just had a miscarriage and was angry at God at the time. I had many patients tell me I was the first doctor who ever offered to pray with them.
The more I allowed God to use my skills while acknowledging He was the healer, the more widely He opened doors of ministry for me. Conversations with patients were opened to speak about deeper needs they faced other than the obvious physical ones. It was not that the physical became less significant, but so many were having emotional and spiritual needs and seemed to have no one with whom they could share their burden. Men and women who may have been church attenders but never considered their personal relationship with Christ were being asked to discuss these sensitive issues. Not everyone responded, but some did. I did not discern any who were offended and had no one say, “I am coming to you for surgical help not religious talk.” Perhaps they did not want to offend their surgeon before he worked on them, but I do not believe this to be the case.
I witnessed people bow their heads in humility to invite Christ into their life to save them and others, while not going this far were openly speaking about their faith. Up to this point in my career I had never been associated with another physician except Bubba who had conversations with their patients along these lines. I knew this was not unique, because I was reading testimonies in spiritual journals of other doctors who were doing the same thing. Two other doctors in El Dorado, Dr. Jim Weedman and Dr. Jean Wise had the same burden for their patients, and I was being encouraged by several pastors whom I knew very well.
The scope of my surgical practice opened the door for Cathy and me to move to Florida for one year. Dr. Charlie Martin, pastor of The First Baptist Church of Indian Rocks was opening a family medical clinic as a ministry of the church, and he asked me to become their first director. After moving there in 1999, the church ordained me as a minister of the gospel. In addition to my medical duties I was involved in teaching Sunday school, preaching on occasion from the pulpit, church visitation in the hospital and performing baptisms with the other 10 pastors. I wrote about our experiences in Florida in 2 blog posts (God Will Make A Way, Part 1 & 2, Apr. 2016). Cathy and I believed our ministry was completed the following year, and we moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas for me to become one of the directors of the Wound Clinic at Washington Regional Medical Center.
Throughout my surgical career of 35 years I had the privilege of observing and operating with some of the finest surgeons in the South. My initial experience in the operating room was as a teen assisting my Dad (Pop) with a few of his operative procedures. Those were the days prior to the explosion of lawsuits for medical malpractice. Although Pop was careful to not allow me to do anything which exceeded my skill set, I was unlicensed and by today’s standard unqualified to participate in any procedure. Pop’s permission extended through my high school and college years, and by the time I enrolled in medical school I was far more skilled in OR techniques than most interns and many junior surgical residents. I was certain of my career path from the first day Pop allowed me to assist him.
For the last 2 years of medical school each student rotated through the surgical service for 3 months of every year. We were taught the skills of sterile technique in the OR and were allowed to scrub, gown and glove to stand at the operating table while only observing the surgeons and their assistants at work. I saw all the surgical residents and many of the interns operating while quietly longing to have an active role in certain procedures with which I had personal experience. I remained quiet about my skills until on one occasion I was asked to assist an intern on an appendectomy while the resident only watched. I was placing sutures and tying knots faster than the intern, and the anesthesiologist Dr. Ronnie Lewis sarcastically asked me, “Hey you, where did you learn to do all that?” When I told him my Dad, Dr. Berry Moore had been teaching me for years, the doctor was astounded. The reason was because he was preparing to enter private practice in El Dorado, and he wanted me to give a good report on him to Pop. (Even though he had previously been pretty rough on me!) In the intervening years while I was working with Dr. Lewis, I would occasionally remind him of the account. His only response was, “I was just young and too cocky for my own good.”
During my 4 years of surgical training at Charity Hospital in New Orleans I participated in or performed several thousand procedures. I worked with at least 8 surgeons who were in private practice in New Orleans and countless other men and women who were in training. A few of them stand out in my mind concerning their diagnostic and technical skills. One of the best surgeons I worked with was Dr. Lewis Crow who was 2 years ahead of me in training. I assisted him on 8 to 10 procedures which were of such magnitude I never forgot his speed and accuracy of performance. He later had a surgical practice in Little Rock, and I was able to refer a number of very difficult cases to him which he handled extremely well.
When I began my practice in El Dorado in 1971 I was in the office of my brother Berry Lee (Bubba). I continued with him for 2 years although for the referral practice I desired this was not ideal. He was a general medical doctor, and it was not best for him to take time away from his practice to assist me in the OR. In 1974 I was invited to join with 3 other surgeons, Dr. David Yocum, Dr. C.E. Tommey and Dr. Bill Scurlock to form The Surgical Clinic of South Arkansas. That was one of my best professional decisions. In the following years we added Dr. Moises Menendez and Dr. Robert Tommey (son of Dr. C.E.) to our clinic staff.
Over the next 25 years I had the privilege of working in the Surgical Clinic with these surgeons who were not only accomplished surgeons but were men of outstanding character. I was able to either assist each one in the OR at one time or another or have them assist me on a surgical case. The one who had a greatest influence on me regarding my skill development and my interaction with patients apart from my brother Berry Lee was Dr. C.E. Tommey.
Dr. Tommey moved to El Dorado in the early 1950’s with his wife Clara and their children. He immediately joined with Dr. Yocum to establish their long career together. Dr. Tommey had trained in the Cleveland Clinic prior to entering military service for 2 years in the United States Army. He had no family ties to El Dorado but had connected with Dr. Yocum as a result of an earlier friendship in medical school. Dr. Scurlock joined them in the mid 1960’s after he completed his military obligation.
Dr. Tommey (Dr. Eldon) was a quiet man of few words. When you could engage him in a lengthy conversation he had a witty personality with an infectious laugh. One of the funniest professional stories I love telling involved him and his nurse Reba McDuffie. (Training A Home Care Giver, Aug. 2013) . I never heard him being critical of any person and in particular of another physician. Over the course of 25 years we certainly were eye-witnesses to situations and heard conversations which could have led to judgement and condemnation, but one never heard those words from him.
He was a tireless worker who was never late nor absent from a responsibility. One particular 4th of July weekend he and I were the only surgeons in town, and he was on ER call on Friday and I was on call for Saturday. We agreed to assist each other on those days, and it was the busiest weekend of my 35 year career. We did 11 emergency cases on Friday and 12 cases on Saturday! As I write this I am still amazed at our endurance. To my remembrance all of the 23 patients recovered from their problems.
His diagnostic skills were superb, and I frequently consulted with him when I had a puzzling or difficult diagnostic case. Often just his presence in one of my patient’s room would bring them comfort and peace because of his reputation. By far he was the best known surgeon in El Dorado during those years.
His dress and appearance was always professional and elegant. When we learned about tailor-made Tom James suits, he and I began purchasing them at the same time, and I always knew when he had a new one. Only a very few times did I ever see him in casual dress, and it just didn’t seem natural.
Dr. Eldon was a strong Christian witness, and he and Clara were faithful members of First Baptist Church. He was active in Sunday school as a member of The Men’s Bible Class and participated in many other activities of the church as he was able. He was appointed and served as a deacon of the church for many years and was elected Chairman of Deacons on more than one occasion.
His humility was characterized by a conversation I heard in the operating room while assisting him on a particularly difficult case. One of the experienced scrub nurses, Mrs. Gunter asked him, “Dr. Tommey, how do you keep from making mistakes in the operating room?” He replied, “By gaining experience.” Mrs. Gunter continued, “And how do you gain experience?”, to which he replied, “By making mistakes!”
Dr. Tommey lived a long life and served the people of El Dorado with skill and loving kindness. He retired from his surgical practice in the late 1990’s but continued working in the wound care clinic for another 10+ years. He completely retired from medicine around 2010 because of health reasons. After we moved away from El Dorado in 1999 I was able to visit him in his home on several occasions when Cathy and I were in town to see our children and grandchildren.
This past January 13 I decided to call him on his 98th birthday, and his care giver gave him the phone. Although it was obvious he was weak we were able to have about a 10 minute conversation which included recounting some interesting and funny experiences we shared for those 25 years. At the close of the conversation I said to him, “Dr. Tommey, I love you and have counted it a great honor to have worked with and learned from you all those many years!” His reply was typical and brief, “John, I loved working with you.” The next morning I received a surprising call from his son, Dr. Robert who asked, “Did you call and talk with my Dad yesterday?” When I replied yes Robert said, “He passed away and entered heaven early this morning.”
I have frequently written about the tremendous temporal and eternal impact my brother Berry Lee (Bubba) had on me and my family. There has never been another one comparable to him. But in field of surgery Dr. Charles Eldon Tommey was my greatest mentor in regards to surgical technique, and in the way to live life while treating others as Jesus would. (Matthew 5:16)
I might not have been as close friends with Burton Whitmon (Burt) Renager Jr. had it not been for a ukulele. In the fall of 1960 I was a freshman in medical school at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock and had gone to the lobby of Jeff Banks Dormitory to take a short break from studies. Seated on a couch surrounded by several other students was this short, nice looking, clean-cut guy playing his ukulele while singing a folk song with the group. The Kingston Trio was just becoming very popular, and they were singing “Tom Dooley” which was the signature song of the Trio. His playing and singing while not concert quality was pretty good, so I joined them in singing. I told them I would get my Gibson guitar and join them if that was alright. This was the beginning of a friendship born in Kingston Trio type folk music and nurtured through the years by many common interests including most of all, love of God, family, country and country music, especially Flatt and Scruggs bluegrass..
Burt was born and raised in West Memphis, Arkansas, the only child of B.W. and Elizabeth Crow Renager. His Mom’s roots had been planted in eastern Arkansas in the town of Elaine where she was raised on a large cotton and soy bean farm. After moving to West Memphis following marriage she and B.W. directed the operation and management of the farm which was subsequently passed on to Burt. We have joked often about the current status of the soy beans in Elaine.
Among Burt’s many talents during his formative years (apart from the ukulele) was flying private planes. After learning the skills of piloting he continued flying small aircraft for many years until only recently. Never one to refuse a challenge as a young man, he told me he once flew a single engine plane under the large bridge at Memphis for which he received a reprimand from the Federal Aviation Board and had his license temporarily suspended. He also told me he suspected he had been reported by the one who challenged him and was angry he had lost the bet over the stunt.
Burt was focused on his pre-medical studies in college and graduated with honors from Memphis State University before entering medical school in the fall of 1960. His initial goal was to become a family physician like his own doctor whom he admired. In those early days none of us really knew what rigorous training lay ahead, and where our paths would lead. It was important to have an outlet to help relieve the stress of the academic world, and music was a good one for us.
Our playing and singing gigs during the first year in medical school were lots of fun, and we probably spent too much time honing our musical skills in various ways. We made a memorable trip one weekend to Mountain View, Arkansas to the Jimmy Driftwood Folk Festival and even played a few of our songs on the square while surrounded by 10-15 mountain folks. They seemed curious to hear what these “city slickers” could do, but I don’t remember them being very impressed with our style of folk music! We were not invited to perform on-stage that evening, but loved the people and enjoyed the music which was everywhere that weekend in Mountain View.
I wrote about one of our more unusual performances in a previous post (One Night atthe Rackensack, Jan. 2015). Burt had a gift for generating a background story for the songs we performed when in reality the songs we played and sang were learned from albums of Flatt and Scruggs and recordings of Bob Dylan and others. We always thought we were the only ones who knew the truth concerning those stories.
Burt’s professional career took a turn following our freshman year, and he dropped out of medical school to pursue a military career. I’m not sure his initial intentions were career military, but the war in Vietnam was beginning to escalate in the mid 1960’s, and all young men in those days were subject to being drafted into the war effort. Burt became a junior officer in the United States Navy via Officer’s Candidate School in Newport Rhode Island in 1965. About that time he married his longtime sweetheart Paula Kalder, also of West Memphis, Arkansas, and they started building their family and life together in Virginia Beach, Virginia.
Early on Burt spent a tour of duty in Vietnam commanding a Swift Boat, the modern analog of the PT Boat of World War II. Some of his exploits were recorded in a book written by Jim Guy Tucker. (Arkansas Men of War, Penguin Press, 1968). Jim Guy Tucker was a war correspondent when he wrote and published the book. He was later elected Governor of Arkansas and subsequently resigned following conviction for fraud in the Whitewater Affair.
Burt had a distinguished naval career and rose in the ranks to Captain before retiring in 1991. His last command was aboard the USS Farragut which was a modern class of missile destroyers. (See above photo). Under his command were 400+ enlisted men and 25 officers. I thought he would stay on active duty in the Navy until achieving the rank of Admiral, but it was best for him and his family to retire when he did. Regardless I have always addressed him by that rank when calling and speaking to him by phone.
Burt and Paula have spent their years in Virginia Beach raising their sons Jason and Joshua who are grown now with their own families. There are 5 grandchildren to spoil and enjoy whenever they can be together. I don’t know if he has taught any of them to play a ukulele, but I’m quite certain he can still remember the chords to play and the lyrics to many of the songs we knew so well. Just like two old retirees, most of our songs are outdated!
It has been many years since Burt and I have been together, but we regularly stay in touch by phone, occasional letters and text messages. I’ve learned quite a few life lessons from him and even a few medical tips I have used which hearken back to our medical school days. (i.e. Schoettle’s Rule of XRay Diagnosis). I still believe he would have been an excellent family physician, but God had another career path for him, and he excelled in it. I thank God for that evening 60 years ago playing and singing “Tom Dooley” and remember it as if it were only yesterday.
The first time I met George Berry in 1957 I didn’t like him even a little. It wasn’t his outward appearance which bothered me. He was a tall, handsome Texan , nicely dressed with a great tan and a pleasing outgoing personality. What really bothered me was his relationship to my sister Marilyn. She had decided after 1 year at the all-women’s Lindenwood College in St. Charles, Missouri to attend the University of Texas in Austin. I thought she had lost her sense of good judgement because the Texas Longhorns were bitter rivals of my beloved Arkansas Razorbacks. To add further fuel she had met and fallen in love with this man George Berry who was a stranger to me, and they had planned to marry in July, 1957 at the end of her junior year. My thought about him was he was stealing my sweet sister away to Texas, and I would never see her again. At the time I was a teen, and Marilyn had been a stabilizing influence on me since early childhood although she was only 3 years older.
Following their marriage in El Dorado, Arkansas and honeymoon in Cuba George completed his doctorate degree in business and finance, and they moved to Lubbock, Texas (even further away). He joined the faculty of Texas Tech University in 1961 and they remained in Lubbock until 1969 when he retired from academics as Professor and Chair of Graduate Studies at Texas Tech. He began his next career as a consultant to financial institutions, and they moved their family to Midland, Texas in 1969 where they remained until 1978. It was then they made their final move back to Austin. The majority of his consulting work was done in Austin, and the move prevented him from making the trip to Austin multiple times weekly.
By this time they had 4 fine sons; James, John, Robert and David. My initial attitude toward George had long since changed when I saw how much he loved Marilyn and his family and was such a devoted a husband and father. I began loving what a cheerful, winsome and fun-loving personality George possessed. Whenever we talked he had the latest Aggie joke (and he had many), the most hilarious lawyer stories (I never cared much for lawyers until our son John became one), and many funny accounts of the Longhorn and Razorback tradition. George was the first person to tell me about a Texas holiday celebrated annually called Juneteenth. At the time it was an exclusive and official Texas holiday celebrated on June 19th commemorating Emancipation Day, and among other things many businesses were closed on Juneteenth giving everyone in Texas a welcomed free day.
Cathy and I loved spending time with George, Marilyn and their sons, and we purposed to be present at as many of their special occasions as possible, such as graduations and weddings. They reciprocated with many of our children’s events. After their move back to Austin and because all four of us loved sports we attended some fun outings together such as the Southwest Conference Basketball Tournaments in both San Antonio and Dallas. Our relationship with George and Marilyn ramped up in 1996 when we invited them to join us on a trip to the Holy Land. It was sponsored by the International Congress on Revival (ICR), and Cathy and I wanted them to begin making world-wide mission trips with us. I recounted some of our experiences in a recent blog (Walking Where Jesus Walked, July 2020).
The four of us made a number of overseas mission trips with ICR over the next 10 years, and they were some of the most memorable experiences we ever had. George was so well liked and respected by the leadership of ICR he was invited to become a board member in 1999. This afforded us additional times together when we met for those meetings in such cities as Chattanooga, Tennessee (Bill Stafford’s home), Huntsville, Alabama and Athens, Alabama. I have recounted some of our trips overseas to such places as Salzburg, Austria; Budapest, Hungary and Belfast, Ireland.(The ICR Clothing Ministry; Oct. 2014; A European Gallbladder Ministry, Mar. 2016; WayneBarber and His Bubba Teeth, May 2018). Every trip was exciting, fun-filled and life changing.
George and Marilyn did a wonderful job in raising their sons to be God-fearing and extremely high achievers. James became an anesthesiologist and is one of the most outstanding leaders in his profession. Among many other accomplishments he invented an anesthetic delivering device which has revolutionized the recovery of expensive anesthetic gasses. It is marketed nation-wide to a large number of hospitals. John is a very successful businessman in Houston and along with wife Pat have raised 2 fine and successful sons. Robert is an attorney who specializes in bankruptcy cases and has served and helped hundreds of clients struggling with their personal finances. Their youngest David is a maternal-fetal specialist practicing in Austin, and is an expert in the problems associated with complicated pregnancies. There are only a handful of similar medical specialists nation-wide and David is one of the best. I have written about their physician sons in a previous blog. (Four Generations of Medical Ministry Part 2, Oct. 2019).
Because George was such an expert on finances and investments I always wanted him to give me some “inside advice” on how to make a fortune through the stock market. He continually avoided such a conversation. One day while speaking with him about another matter I said, “George, you never have given me any financial advice, and it is time you helped me make some real money on investments.” His reply was, “I’m getting ready to give you a tip which will make you a very wealthy man. Get your pen out and tell me when you are ready.” I said, “I’m all ears and ready. Go!” He said very slowly and then repeated it, “Buy low and sell high!” I dropped my pen and told him he was really not much help. George was wise enough to know financial advice from a family member can cause much distress if it fails to produce.
Although George has been healthy and strong for most of his life, over the past several years he has struggled with some issues which have drained his reserve. Because he was not able to travel with Marilyn as they had done for many years, his forced inactivity caused further deterioration of his strength. I had spoken with Dr. David on this past June 18, and he had said his Dad was slowly gaining strength in his health. On June 19 while waiting for Marilyn to prepare supper George sat in his lounge chair to take a short nap. When Marilyn went in to awaken him she discovered George had quietly passed into the arms of Jesus.
My wonderful friend, brother in law and brother in Christ met our Savior on Juneteenth, and he received his complete emancipation from this world of weakness, sickness and sin. Marilyn and all his family and friends are comforted in knowing where he is and Who he is with. He followed his own advice in starting low and ending high. I am sure missing him, but I’ll see him soon at the feet of Jesus.