The Death of Two Heroes

Posted: March 29, 2009 in Family and Friends

#1: My mother told me that George Kell passed away recently. You can read the article from The Washington Post HERE. Mr. Kell was a baseball hall-of-famer, but he was a hall-of-famer in more ways than one. I will never forget his writing me his personal testimony longhand on hall-of-fame stationery for inclusion in my book, “Pardon the Inspiration.” That letter is something I treasure. The world was blessed to have a hero like George Kell in it, and he will be missed.

#2: My friend, Billy, told me that my old buddy, Hezekiah, passed away recently in Biloxi, too. I wrote about Hezekiah on several occasions – many of you will remember. My family loved him. I don’t think there was even an obituary in the newspaper, much less The Washington Post. I wonder if there was a service of any kind, and I even wonder where someone like Hezekiah ends up being buried. What I do know is that he was the happiest person I have ever known, and my life is better for having known him. His 72 years were anything but easy, but they were well spent. And he was my hero.

So, just in case, no one stood up and said a word on Hezekiah’s behalf at his passing, allow me to republish something I wrote about him years ago in our post-Katrina life – let me blast it out across cyberspace so that maybe, by some miracle, it will reach him on the smoking porch with Jesus and let him know of one of the many days he made a difference in my life.


I went to Biloxi yesterday to see my old friend, Hezekiah. Hezekiah is an old black man who has been institutionalized (to use a harsh word) for a long time now. He is mentally challenged and spends the bulk of his days sitting in a wheelchair listening to his radio. Looking through magazines (books, as he calls them), playing the harmonica (“Old Freight Train” is his specialty), and smoking rank among his other favorite ways to pass the time of day.

Several years ago now, a class at church considered how we might get outside our walls and serve people in need. The idea arose of adopting some folks in nursing homes, and my good friend, Billy Daves, hooked me up with Hezekiah as someone who has no one in life to come and visit him. The class project fell apart, but I made out all right, getting a new friend and all. And Hezekiah is everybody’s friend. Just ask him, and he’ll tell you.

I can’t imagine life being pleasant for Hezekiah. Without a lot of physical control, there are times you find him looking through a book with a need to change his soiled pants. That doesn’t seem to bother him that much. Billy told me that Hezekiah set himself on fire once fiddling with his cigarettes. I know that didn’t slow down his habit! All in all, I think Hezekiah is the happiest person I’ve ever known. He’s like a child without any bad days.

After Hezekiah cheered me up at the nursing home yesterday, I decided to drive down Highway 90 in Biloxi, I guess to make sure my happiness didn’t last too long. My wife told me that she had driven there a few days ago and got emotional for the first time in a long time. Yesterday, I could see why. It is still such a mess.

I began to think about how desensitized we can be to troubles, where they become hardly noticeable. And then, when they come into focus again, it is shocking. Shouldn’t be, but it is.

That is the roller coaster of life.

But not for Hezekiah. He is as steady as she comes. With absolutely nothing to look forward to in life, he sits there with a smile and a song for everyone, as dependable as the morning sun.

With the mess surrounding me, I sure wish I could be more like good old Hezekiah.

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