Giving Up “Boots” aka “Harry”

“Harry” In His Chair


Our daughter Ginny loved cats, and I have told her she must have inherited that love from her mother, because I don’t care much for cats. My sister Marilyn always seemed to have a cat when we were growing up, and because her cats aggravated my dogs, they aggravated me also. I did my best to return the favor whenever possible.

Cathy had numerous cats during her childhood, and she had lots of “cat stories” from her past. In a moment of extreme weakness I even gave Cathy the present of a Siamese cat for her birthday in March during our courtship year. I must have forgotten the following August when we were to be married, I would be living with “Ming.” Since our other daughter Mary Kay also inherited cat love from her Mother, it appeared I was destined to always have one or more cats around the house. Our son John, like me didn’t care much for cats, and we tried our best to agitate them with our pet dogs as often as possible. We never meant any physical harm to them however.

At one point when Ginny was approximately 8 years old we came into possession of a cat who was part Siamese and some other breed. As I recall the kitten had been abandoned, which was all our merciful girls needed to know. Ginny was first in line for a new kitten so this one became hers. Since the kitten had distinctive white paws and was a male Ginny named him Boots. I was thankful the kitten was male so we didn’t have to take him to the veterinarian for a spaying. Boots was seemingly more playful and friendly with me than our previous felines, so I think I kind of “liked” Boots.

Our across the street neighbors were the Clyde’s and their younger daughter Elizabeth (Bitsy) was close friends with our kids, especially Mary Kay and Ginny, with whom she was closer in age. Bitsy loved animals, and in fact when grown she became a veterinarian and now lives with her family and practices veterinary medicine in Mattoon, Illinois. Whenever we went on vacation we engaged Bitsy to watch over and feed our animals, which she not only loved doing for us but appreciated the extra money we paid for her kindness.

One year in March when Boots was approximately 2 years old we took a family vacation to Fort Lauderdale, Florida to spend time with Cathy’s parents and family. During our 10 day absence we again enlisted Bitsy to feed Boots and make certain he was safe. As I recall we didn’t have a dog at the time which was rare for us. Upon our return Bitsy sadly reported she hadn’t seen Boots for about 5 days, and had no clue about his whereabouts. He was pretty much a home cat and to our recollection had never been gone for such an extended period of time. That night all of us, and especially Ginny asked God to return Boots safely home.

Within the next month when no sign of Boots was evident I believe we all gave up hope of his return. All except Ginny. She prayed multiple times during the day, at all our meal times when it was her turn to pray, and especially at night as we listened and agreed with her pleas to our heavenly Father. She never stopped praying for Boots when some of the rest of us had given up.

Approximately 8 months later on Halloween evening our kids were preparing to go into the neighborhood for their annual “trick or treating” when there was a ring of our front door bell. It was Bitsy who was short of breath from running as she told us excitedly, “I’ve found Boots!” “Where in the world did you find Boots, and why didn’t you bring him home?,” we asked her. “When I knocked on Mrs. Reeves door and she came to the door, there was Boots standing beside her. I asked her why did she have Boots?” She answered, ” Do you recognize this cat? He came to my door about 6 months or so ago, and I thought he was a stray cat because he had no collar and was very hungry. I began feeding him and he was happy to stay with me.” Bitsy said I told her Boots was his name, and he belonged to the Moore’s. Mrs. Reeves who lived in a beautiful 2 story home 2 doors down from us, had been a widow for 5 years. Her husband Harry who was owner of B W Reeves Department Store, a landmark store in El Dorado since the oil boom days of the 1920’s, had died a few years previously from heart disease and complications associated with old age.

Mrs. Reeves was shocked at this revelation and told Bitsy, “This cat has decided to stay with me, and he’s now an inside cat. I have had him de-clawed, neutered and named him “Harry” for my dear, departed husband. Harry never leaves my side and even sleeps in the bed with me! I just can’t give him up.” Ginny was so excited Boots had been found and wanted him home with her, and now Mrs. Reeves is saying she can’t live without “Harry”! I immediately phoned Mrs. Reeves, and while she was recounting the story Bitsy told us, she began crying uncontrollably at the thought of returning Boots to us. I told her we would explain this to Ginny, allow her to decide, and we would let her know.

As we sat down with Ginny to explain the dilemma of Boots she also began crying so we prayed with her as she made her decision. She went into our yard, picked some flowers and walked the short distance to Mrs. Reeves house to knock on her door. I think Mrs. Reeves was a little surprised to see Ginny with her flower gift and was almost shocked when Ginny told her, “I want you to have Boots as a gift from me.” She hugged Ginny and through tears told Ginny what a sweet girl she was for this gift while promising to take good care of Harry.

We were all very proud of Ginny’s loving generosity in giving up Boots, and I promised her I would find another cat for her very soon. Ginny’s attitude helped reinforce to us we must hold our possessions in an open hand so when our Father decides to move them to someone else, we can give freely and cheerfully. He always gives back more than we had in the beginning. (Luke 6:38)

Dr. John


Finding Taffy

Mary Kay and Taffy

Our family loves pets, and through the years we have had some memorable dogs, cats, ducks, turtles and a few fish. We never experienced the “joys” of owning rabbits, gerbils, parrots, possum or racoon! When we get together for holidays and special birthdays or ball games the conversation sometimes comes around to discussing and laughing about a particular pet who impacted us, usually in a positive way but occasionally in a negative way. We will all attest to the fact a few of our pets have taught us spiritual lessons which came unexpectedly. One event in the life of Taffy was especially meaningful.

Taffy was a beautiful, female Sheltie (Shetland Sheepdog) whom we bought for daughter Mary Kay from the daughter of our veterinarian in El Dorado. Because the registered name of the mother of our puppy was Candy, Mary Kay  chose to name her “Taffy” because her coat was a lovely golden color (and we were partial to Silver Dollar City taffy). Taffy was such a cute and playful puppy we fell in love with her at first sight! Mary Kay, who was 10 at the time had wanted a Sheltie, and we were pleased to declare Taffy as “Mary Kay’s dog.”  (which meant she had to feed and clean up after this small puppy)! Our back yard was large and fenced, which made a perfect playground  for an active puppy who loved to run (and herd). None of our pets were “inside pets”, but we had a large basement we used for shelter during stormy or severely cold weather.

Taffy grew to adult size within a year, but we had her spayed to avoid the problems associated with breeding and puppy care. Because she was so active and playful she didn’t have the problems of weight gain and lethargy some spayed females experience. Two characteristics of Taffy were her high-pitched bark (I called it a yap), which she did all too frequently for me, and a characteristic twirling motion she performed when she was excited or saw Mary Kay after a short absence. Little did we know these peculiar characteristics would play a critical role in Taffy’s future.

When Taffy was approximately 3 years old we discovered her missing one day. It was not unusual for her to be outside the fence, because the yard was large and occasionally one of the gates would be left open, and she would run into the neighborhood. In all other instances Taffy would return home within an hour or so following her neighborly exploration. This time she didn’t return. We thoroughly searched the entire neighborhood until dark, and hoped when daylight came someone would find her and bring her home. Her collar had all the necessary information to contact us. That night we all prayed for her safe return, and within our little prayer circle there were a few tears shed thinking she might be hurt or worse.

Days led to weeks of no word concerning Taffy, and I must say I gave up ever seeing Taffy again. I had lost special dogs in the past, and it was easier for me emotionally to assume they were dead rather than continue hoping for a return.  Cathy, Mary Kay and Ginny continued to pray for her at every meal and during evening prayers, and I certainly didn’t discourage them or make them think I didn’t also miss Taffy.

About one year from the date of Taffy’s disappearance I received a call at my office on a Saturday morning from a lady who had been a surgical patient in the past. At the beginning of the conversation she said, “I know where your dog is!” I said, “You know where our Sheltie is?” without thinking that was the only dog we had missing! She said a woman friend of hers had found the dog a year ago and decided to keep her despite knowing the dog belonged to us. I knew the lady who supposedly had our dog, because she had also been a surgical patient. I asked why she was just now letting me know since she had known about it for so long. Her answer was, “I felt bad knowing where your dog was, and I got into an argument with the lady and decided to get her into trouble!” I thanked the caller for her information.

I looked up the address of the alleged dog kidnapper in our office files and called home to report this startling news. I picked up the girls, and we very anxiously drove to the address of the lady, which was several miles away. Upon arrival we found a small, poorly kept single-dwelling home with a fenced backyard, and evidence there had been a recent fire at the residence with significant damage. There was no one at home so we went to the corner of the fence and Mary Kay began calling Taffy’s name. Within seconds a bedraggled-looking Sheltie ran around the house in response to the call. We couldn’t be sure this was Taffy because this dog was thin, her coat was more dull in color and she seemed more lethargic than our Taffy. When she spotted Mary Kay she began “yapping” and twirling in an unmistakable fashion, and we immediately knew this was our Taffy! We were all so excited to have found our dog, and Taffy kept up her yapping and twirling in celebration with us of her reunion with her family.

Within a few minutes a car drove into the driveway, and I immediately recognized the lady at the wheel. On exiting the car she was crying with tears and kept saying, “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” When she calmed down she confessed she knew Taffy was ours, but when she found her roaming in her neighborhood she had just lost her own dog and believed we could “easily get another pet.” Because we were so glad to have found Taffy we did not consider pressing any charges against her. We told her we forgave her and then had a prayer with her concerning the fire damage to her home and belongings. Our attitude toward her later opened a door to share Christ and His forgiveness of her, and she prayed for forgiveness of her sins to be saved.

The following week we took Taffy to the veterinarian, and she was found to have heart worms because of her poor care. She almost didn’t survive the treatment, but began improving to become a healthy and happy Taffy once again. The above photograph was taken about a year after the ordeal. We all learned some very important life lessons concerning our yapping, twirling Taffy. Forgive quickly those who have harmed you; never give up hoping when events seem to indicate otherwise; and by all means pray without ceasing! (I Thess. 5:17)

Dr. John




The Witness of Brother Bill’s Golf Game

Getting Out of a Hazard

Brother Bill Stafford has made a significant spiritual impact on Cathy and me as a result of our friendship over the past 25-30 years. As President of The International Congress on Revival he gave us the opportunity for involvement in this ministry for  many of those years. The Congress (ICR) was established by evangelist Manley Beasley in the late 1970’s in an effort to bring revival into the hearts of pastors and their wives in eastern Europe. This was several years before the lifting of the Iron Curtain. When Brother Manley departed this life in 1999 the leadership of the organization was passed to Brother Bill, and our prior friendship with him sparked our beginning involvement with ICR.

Brother Bill’s personal ministry as an evangelist over a span of nearly 60 years was extensive and at times physically exhausting. He would preach as many as 60 meetings per year and most of these meetings lasted 4 days from Sunday morning through Wednesday evening. He often set aside several days every 3 or 4 months to rest and recuperate. He had few hobbies outside of regular jogging each morning in the early hours, but occasionally would play a round of golf with one of his friends if the opportunity arose. Despite having some other athletic skills, golfing for Brother Bill was neither a priority nor a game he cared much about. It was all about emotional rest and sunshine.

Skeet May from Memphis,Tennessee had been a close friend of Brother Bill’s for many years and occasionally he and his wife invited Bill and wife Sue to stay in their home when they were travelling in the Memphis area.. Skeet was a very close friend of Brother Manley and was an original board member of ICR, so when Brother Bill assumed the leadership Skeet helped him make the transition.

Brother Bill was in Memphis preaching a meeting, and when the meeting was over Skeet invited him to stay over for a few days to just relax and unwind from his demanding schedule. One of those days it was suggested they play a round of golf at a local municipal course. Both agreed they would not discuss ministry, preaching or any problems related to either. They both committed to enjoying the sunshine, the beauty of the course and the temporary freedom from pressures.

After playing the first 5 holes they noted there were two men close behind who were riding in a golf cart while Bill and Skeet were walking and pulling their own individual carts. (Most golf courses now require players to use motorized carts to speed up play). They also noted the two were laughing, telling off-color jokes, drinking beer and obviously showing no interest in spiritual things. Bill and Skeet waited at the 6th tee box to allow the two men to play through since they were moving faster, but the two revelers insisted they play together as a four-some. They introduced themselves by only their first names and said nothing else about themselves personally. The two strangers continued their profane joke telling and beer drinking, and Brother Bill said the two who were “pretty good golfers” were obviously enjoying their time on the course.

After playing several holes together their conversation with each other centered only on the course and the difficulties the hazards presented. Brother Bill said he began really feeling guilty about not making any attempt to speak to the men about the Lord since they seemed spiritually lost with no apparent interest. Shortly one of the men turned to Brother Bill and asked, “Are you a preacher?” Bill was taken aback since there had been no words spoken about their professions. Bill answered, “Well yes, as a matter of fact I am a preacher. Do I look like a preacher?” The man retorted, “No, not especially. I suspected you must be a preacher because anyone who plays golf as bad as you and doesn’t cuss, just has to be a preacher!”

Bill said during the remainder of the round the conversation was quite different, and both he and Skeet had the opportunity to share their testimonies and give a good witness for the Lord Jesus. Neither of the other men were saved that day, but they certainly heard the Good News of Jesus telling them He  will save them if they would turn their hearts toward Him! Jesus commands us as believers  to be witnesses for Him wherever we are, even on a golf course and especially when we are playing badly!

Dr. John

“Preacher” Bill Stafford


An African Elephant Opens A Door

African Elephant by Lasz

One doesn’t often think of something as large as an African elephant opening a door unless he crashes through it, but in the case of this particular elephant God opened the door to a special relationship in a most unusual way.

Cathy and I have had the privilege through the years of knowing and having fellowship with some of the most wonderful people serving the Lord in other countries. One of the couples who impacted us early in our Christian experience were Gordon and Jeanette Jones who lived and served with their children in Zambia.

Dr. Gordon Jones was a general surgeon from El Dorado who was several years older than me, and I didn’t know him in his younger years. His younger brother Delmas was in my sister Marilyn’s graduating high school class, and I knew about his skill in playing high school football. Gordon’s younger sister Carolyn was married to James Thomas, a friend from Boys Club baseball days, and the two of them opened and operated a downtown restaurant called Union Station where our family dined on many Sundays at noon. Through James and Carolyn we became acquainted with the Gordon Jones’s and were introduced to them in the early 1980’s when they were home for a 6 month furlough.

When Gordon and I discovered we both trained in general surgery several years apart at Charity Hospital in New Orleans, our professional bond grew closer. Gordon began coming to the hospitals in El Dorado and operating with me when home on furlough. I was able to pay him an assistant fee which helped with their finances, but more importantly we had the opportunity to spend hours talking about his work and ministry in Zambia. Gordon and I developed a close friendship during those years, and I learned a great deal about life as a medical missionary in general and Zambia in particular. I have written two posts regarding our friendship; Dr. Jones and the Spitting Cobra and A Divine Appointment in South Africa.

On one of their furloughs during the Christmas holiday season they brought us some unique gifts from Zambia which we really appreciated. One was a special drawing (painting) of an African elephant done by a person who lived in central Kenya and was on the staff of the Rift Valley Academy. All we knew of the artist’s name was Lasz which was in the lower left corner The academy is well-known as an excellent boarding school for missionary kids throughout all of Africa, and all the Jones’ kids attended there. The drawing, although beautiful didn’t find a special place in our home because about the time they gave it to us, we were in the process of moving. We moved the drawing along with all of our other household items.

Fast forward 10 years when Cathy and I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas from Clearwater, Florida we noted among our paintings and drawings this one of the elephant. It was about this time our son-in-law John Luther, who is an avid hunter was moving into his new office as the Director of Emergency Management for Washington County, Arkansas. Cathy found a very nice frame and we gave the drawing to John to hang in his office.

John took one look at the signature ” Lasz” on the drawing and said his friend Phil Lasse was the artist of the drawing. I said, “John, do you really know this man who lives in Kenya?” He responded, “Phil and his wife Shirley moved from Kenya to Fayetteville several years ago and are very active members of our church. Yes I know him.” I thought to myself, “What a small world!”

At the time I was co-teaching a Sunday school class at University Baptist Church with Dr. Don Herring, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Agriculture at the University of Arkansas. He said he would like for me to join him visiting a close friend who was dealing with far advanced cancer, and he believed we could encourage him and could pray with him. “Who is the friend?” I asked Don. He said it was Phil Lasse. I said it would be an honor to meet him and pray with him. On three separate occasions over the next month we went to Phil and Shirley’s home and were able to encourage and be encouraged by them. During the first visit I told Phil the story of the elephant drawing and how I came to be in possession of it. He did not personally know the Gordon Jones family, but remembered there were 3 missionary kids in the Rift Academy from Zambia.

I am still learning in God’s economy of time and events there are no chance occurrences. It was not a coincidence Gordon and Jeanette happened to choose the drawing of an African elephant as a gift for us, because He knew in His sovereignty years later a door of opportunity would be opened by the drawing. As I reflect on these events it causes me to look more closely for God’s mighty hand in everything and especially something as large as an elephant!

Dr. John






“The Only One Who Can Help You”


A Helping Hand

Perhaps the greatest joy a Christian can experience is leading someone to confess faith in the saving grace of the Lord Jesus. I believe this is not just a good option for a Christian but a command given to all believers by Christ himself when He gave the great commission at His ascension (Matthew 28:18-20). I love hearing stories of salvation experiences and will ask someone whom I believe is saved to relate their journey of faith. Every story is different just as we are all different, and every story is important because our Savior is the central figure of each story. One of the most unique accounts was part of the testimony of Herb Hodges an evangelist from Memphis, Tennessee.

I had never met Herb prior to hearing him speak to the Kaleo’s at Kids Across America in Branson, Missouri. This camp is an urban sports camp which has been ministering for the past 26 years, and each year as many as 9,000 kids get a one week fun-filled camp experience at no cost to them! One of the primary reasons Cathy and I moved to Branson in 2005 was to be close to our daughter Mary Kay, her husband Dave Janke and their 2 daughters Rebecca and Sara Beth. Dave has been on the staff at Kids Across America since its’ inception in the early 1990’s. This brilliant camp concept was born out of the ministry and hearts of Spike White and his son Joe who were the leaders of Kanakuk Kamps which had operated in Branson over 70 years previous. These camps give kids from ages 6 through 18 the opportunity to have a fantastic camp experience combined with a major emphasis on Christian living. Because inner-city kids could not afford the cost of a week at camp, Kids Across America (KAA) provides them the means and the beautiful camp grounds on Table Rock Lake in Golden, Missouri.

Many of the kids from cities like Kansas City, Dallas, St. Louis and Chicago come to the 3 camps in the Missouri Ozarks having never seen a tree growing in the woods nor experienced the loving environment they find at KAA. From the moment they set foot on the camp grounds they are loved, hugged, encouraged and challenged to be the kind of kids God wants them to be. The total atmosphere is so unreal to most of the first time campers they are speechless but soon understand they are among friends who love Jesus and love them as special expressions of God’s grace. It is not uncommon for the kids to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior before the week is over.

The counselors who accompany the kids from their individual cities and stay with them the entire week are called kaleos (Greek for “called or invited”). During the week kaleos attend talks and training sessions by camp leaders intended to challenge and encourage them in their Christian walk. Guest speakers are invited from various places to add to their total experience. Herb Hodges was a frequent guest speaker, and I happened to be present when he was speaking one morning. Herb gave the following account of his spiritual journey:

“When I was a young man in my late teens living in Memphis I was a rough kid with no thoughts about Jesus Christ, nor any interest whatsoever in living for anything or anyone except myself. I wanted to emulate the people I admired at the time, except I wanted to be bigger, stronger and meaner than the worst of them. I believed a real man spoke roughly and used curse words regularly to enhance his image as being a tough guy, so I cursed often and frequently used the Lord’s name in vain. Anyone in my presence saw and heard what I considered to be a “real man.” One afternoon while swimming in a popular public pool I decided to get out of the pool by climbing out the side of the pool rather than at the steps which everyone else used. As I was looking down while getting out I noticed a hand being extended to assist me. I looked up into the face of someone I had never seen before, and while he was helping me up he said, “Son, the One whose name you use as a curse word is the only One who can help you.” That was all he said, and he turned and walked away. I didn’t make any comment or speak to him and never saw him again. Those words he said to me kept resonating in my thoughts over the next 7 to 10 days, and I couldn’t stop thinking about what he said and what his words might mean to me. About a week or so later I just “happened to walk past a church having a revival meeting” and entered the church out of curiosity. I was strangely moved by what I saw and heard, and when the invitation for salvation was given I responded by giving my life to the Lord Jesus Christ!”

One can never know the eternal impact he has through his life style or the words he might speak or even the extending of a  helping hand to a stranger. The point Herb Hodges made so well that morning at KAA was our responsibility as believers is to sow seeds of God’s loving grace regularly and often wherever we might be. We never know when one tiny seed might fall on the fertile soil prepared by others. It might even happen at a public swimming pool!

Dr. John

“Howdy Folks” – The Song

El Dorado High School

Howdy folks, how do you do?  El Dorado High is greeting you!

We have come to chase your blues away,  Help us cheer and help us say;

Fight ’em Wildcats, do your stuff,  Make ’em say that they have had enough.

Let ’em know the Wildcats never bluff, El Dorado fight, fight, fight!


This was the Fight Song in 1957  when I was a senior at El Dorado High School. I have no idea who wrote the song or how long it was sung as the fight song,  but it was certainly there the 3 years I was in high school. I suspect it had been sung for decades before when cheer leaders, pom-pom squads and fight songs became popular on junior high and high school campuses.

Everyone in school knew the words perfectly and sang the fight song every time there was a pep rally for an approaching football or basketball game. It was simply part of the Wildcat musical repertoire along with the El Dorado High School Loyalty Song whose words will be in a later post. Two of my best friends in high school, who were both athletes  and along with me had the privilege of singing the “Howdy Folks” song well up into and through our freshman year in college.

Jim Weedman and Larry Mosley both played football for the Wildcats while I was on the varsity basketball team. We all attended the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, but none of us were accomplished enough athletes to continue with college sports. We were however; fraternity members together, having pledged into Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE). Jim and I pledged our first semester in 1957 while Larry did not pledge until the fall of 1958.

Pledges in our fraternity at the time had to withstand almost a year of hazing practices before being voted into a full membership status. I suppose one reason for the pledge year was to weed out any undesirable pledges and remove them before granting full status and privileges as an SAE member. Another reason for the pledge system was to get them to do the work needed in and around the fraternity house without having to pay for outside labor. There were certainly times during the pledge year I felt like an unpaid slave, but that was simply part of the price everyone paid in joining a fraternity. The real benefit I gained from fraternity membership was in making life-long friendships with some outstanding men.

The only meal everyone in our fraternity had together was lunch, and it was a time for good food, fraternal friendship and some good fun mostly at the expense of the pledge class. During the course of the 45-60 minute meal time the pledges were called upon to stand and recite various things depending on the whim of the members at the time. Some pledges were asked to give the names and hometowns of everyone seated at his 8 to 10 place table; others were asked to sing the U of A Alma Mater. Still others had to recite all the founding members of SAE from the University of Alabama in the 1840’s. It was designed to bring as much embarrassment as possible to the pledges and as much laughter as possible to the jeering members. It was a hazing which was not physically painful, but one which each member had to endure during his pledge year.

For Jim Weedman and me it became a fairly regular occurrence when one noon we were asked to sing the El Dorado Fight Song for the first time. None of the members had ever heard the words of the “Howdy Folks” song before, and we became an instant hit when we sang it that day. As I recall they even clapped for us when we finished, which I don’t think had ever happened before! From that initial musical rendering Jim and I were asked at least once every 2 weeks to stand and entertain the brothers with our singing talents. I think some were even disappointed we were able to sing on key because many of the other pledges who would sing various songs were so off-key it added to the entertainment value. Jim and I sang so often we were able to add a little harmony.

The following year when Larry became a pledge and it became known he was from El Dorado, he was immediately requested to sing “Howdy Folks.” There may have been some urging from Jim and me because we knew Larry would definitely sing off-key, and he would get quite a few jeers from the fickle crowd. He didn’t disappoint in his (dis)ability to sing and every time he was requested to sing one could not tell which key he was using! It was all in good fun, and after several months the requests for the song stopped.

When Jim and I left Fayetteville in 1960 to enter medical school in Little Rock I lost contact with the fraternity and finally severed all communication ties in the 1970’s. I disagreed strongly with some of the stated goals and the direction of fraternities in general and SAE in particular. I don’t know if any other men from El Dorado pledged into the SAE fraternity at the University of Arkansas, but I am quite confident if they did and the fraternity had the same policy of noon-time hazing, the “Howdy Folks” song remained near the top in requested tunes. I still occasionally sing the song privately for old times sake!

Dr. John

A Divine Legal Appointment

When a physician gets a phone call from a lawyer’s office it can strike fear in his heart. There is often an overriding anxiety of a medical malpractice suit lurking somewhere in his mind whether he will admit it or not. Even the wording of the allegations in a malpractice document such as, “–did willingly and knowingly commit  the error of —” are painful and distressing for a conscientious doctor. Just the mention of certain lawyers’ names evoke the same fearful response. Such was not the case when I received a phone call at my office one Monday afternoon from the El Dorado attorney Dennis Shackleford. I made an appointment to be in his office on the following Thursday afternoon.

Dennis, who was a personal friend was well-known in Arkansas for his outstanding legal defense work in medical malpractice cases. He occasionally asked me to review a case for him regarding allegations made against a physician from another part of the state but never against a local doctor. In addition to the generous monetary benefit I received from such a review I really enjoyed the legal discussions with Dennis, because I always learned something new from him. At one point during my training years I considered law school in addition to my medical training and had an abiding interest in the law. Pop used to tell me in a half-kidding way, “If you have a degree in law in addition to a medical degree you can write your own ticket working for a big insurance company!” I liked the part of “writing your own ticket”, but was not enthused about the “big insurance company” part!

Before my discussions began with Dennis he would frequently ask about our son John who was in law school during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.When John graduated from the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville in 1992 he began searching for just the right professional fit to begin his practice. He and his wife Gina enjoyed their 3 years living in Northwest Arkansas; had many friends and a great church in the First Baptist Church of Springdale (now Cross Church). Initially their preference of location was to remain in the area, but available positions at the time for a new and inexperienced lawyer were scarce. Gina had a good job working as an accountant for J B Hunt Trucking, which supported them financially, and to supplement her income John got a job in the produce section of Harp’s Grocery. He also worked for a short time at George’s Chicken in general maintenance. Cathy and I were greatly concerned for our lawyer son doing such non-legal work and were very diligent in those days to pray for John’s employment.

This particular afternoon when Dennis asked about John’s status I told him John had graduated but was having difficulty finding the right fit for employment. By this time John had taken and passed the Arkansas Bar examination, so he was ready to start his legal career. Dennis said, “I’ve got a good suggestion for him. Judge Harry Barnes from Camden has been just appointed by President Bill Clinton as Federal Judge for the Western District of Arkansas, and he is just waiting for confirmation from the United States Senate. Federal Judges always hire legal clerks to assist them, and those clerkships are highly sought by young, aspiring lawyers. Why don’t you give Harry a call to see if he would consider hiring John as his clerk? I doubt he has hired anyone yet.” I was acquainted with Judge Barnes because about a year previous another attorney friend Worth Camp invited Cathy and me to join him and his wife Janice along with Harry and Mary Barnes for an evening meal. Cathy and I really enjoyed our time that evening with the Camp’s and Barnes’.

I went back to my office and called the number Dennis gave me and Judge Barnes immediately answered which I considered miraculous. I identified myself and the judge remembered our previous dinner meeting. I told him about my conversation with Dennis and wanted to know if he had already hired a clerk which he hadn’t. I told him about John, and he said he would love to interview him because he had “a stack of applications” from all over the country but liked giving preference to local people in his hiring practices. “When can John be here for an interview,” he asked. I said, “I think he can come down from Fayetteville tomorrow afternoon.” “I look forward to meeting him,” the judge said as we concluded the call.

John was excited to meet and interview with Judge Barnes the following afternoon, and they immediately clicked. At the end of the interview Judge Barnes told John if he was confirmed by the Senate then John would be his law clerk. How excited we all were with this sudden and unexpected blessing! Both Cathy and I firmly believe Judge Barnes saw the outstanding character qualities in John and made the best choice for his first law clerk.

The 2 years John spent clerking in Judge Barnes office were the perfect beginning for him. He not only learned the many intricacies of jurisprudence from an outstanding judge but  was able to meet and know a large number of attorneys in the Western District of Arkansas. The law department at Murphy Oil Company, whose national headquarters are in El Dorado saw the great potential in John and hired him as an Associate Attorney in 1995. He has since risen in the corporate ranks of Murphy Oil, and when the corporation split to form Murphy USA in 2013 John became Senior Vice President and General Counsel for Murphy USA.

We never know the impact of a phone call or a meeting until looking back we see where God has directed. His promise is made real when we trust Him with all of our heart and don’t lean on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5,6). Cathy and I will always believe the appointment that afternoon with Dennis Shackleford was ordained by God.

Dr. John