by Martha Smith
Sometimes people can come into your life in the most innocent of ways and completely change it later on down the road. The first visit to Dr. Patterson’s office was uneventful. He was a nice man, and he knew what he was doing. What more could a ten-year old ask for from her dentist?As the years went on and with regular cleanings and check-ups, he was a friendly face along with his staff, and I looked forward to my appointments to catch up on what was new.
Later, he’s the one who cut out my wisdom teeth and reassured me the whole time. My children later came into his office, and he and his staff became a friend to them as well.
Years later, this man became my brother and dear friend, and he fiercely loved his family and went out of his way to help in any way he could. He fit right in, and it was as if he’d always been there, tinkering around in the kitchen while we were taking a quick nap.
On the grand scale, Scottsboro is such a small town in size and population. And, yes, he was just a small-town dentist who knew everyone.
But what I’m really trying to touch on here is how many lives this man touched. He watched me grow up, and he saw my children grow, and he became a part of our lives in a huge way with that laugh and smile of his. That big, warm heart. That mischievous streak of his. His penchant for coming home with a snake in his pocket or catching a frog in a nearby river so your sons can have a cool pet.
And this is just my story. How many patients have walked through the doors of his office? And their children? And theirs? When you add it all up, it’s mind boggling just how many people he knew and cared about and took genuine pleasure in sharing their life with them, simply by being there for them every six months or when they needed urgent care.
In other ways, like at his church, he was a member of the choir and had been for years. He knew the name of every person who walked through the doors there, too, and he shared his life with them in that free, giving way of his, partaking of their triumphs, failures, grief and joy. The deaths and births. The graduations. They all mattered to him because they all pertained to another life that just happened to bump up against his, and for Wayne, that was enough to make him love you. To pray for you and want the best for you.
In my entire life, Wayne has been the most profound encourager and encouraging voice in my head. Pushing me ahead when I felt I couldn’t take another step. “You can do it.” Challenging me to push myself if he wasn’t there to remind me that I was supposed to be trying harder to get where I wanted to be. “Keep pushing ahead. Don’t quit.”
Left in this wake of losing him, this town is reeling. There are so many messages and posts from people who knew him and loved him. Everyone has been walking around in complete disbelief the past week.
In the choir, there is an empty spot. In the sanctuary, there is no saved seat with his Bible sitting in the center of the cushion. And in the hearts of those who knew and loved him, there is a light gone out.
Wayne dearly loved his wife, Mary. She was his whole world, and he never failed to prove, show and remind her of that. Not a day went by. Knowing he was the closest person to her was an immense comfort, because we all knew she would be loved in the way we all hope our loved ones are. Some people go their whole lives, and they never find a love like that. Some people go their whole lives and never meet a person like him. Never have the good fortune to wave hello to him from the other grocery aisle or hear him chuckle when he gave you a bear hug.
Wayne was always the first to say I love you and the last to let go during a hug. I don’t believe there was ever a moment in his life that he took you for granted.
This past week, I have watched spirits break at the loss of this man from our lives. I have seen grieving mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. Ministers. Spouses. Friends. Patients. Communities. Shattered at what we have lost.
My mind returns to a conversation about his cycling and how it was dangerous, and that was when he said, “Remember. If something happens to me while I’m on my bike, I was happy, and I was doing what I loved.”
We have all lost someone, and it happens every day. And this one, this will hurt for a very long time for a lot of people.
We celebrated this man’s life on Saturday, July 3, 2021. And he leaves behind a legacy of love, laughter, adventure, humor, generosity, beauty, fearlessness and a deep, abiding love of God.
A life well lived. A gift for us to keep with a promise that one day, we will see him again.
Until then, please look twice for cyclists on the road. Put your phone down. Slow down. Pass with tremendous care. Remember how much you are loved, and remind yourself that the person who could be on the road with you is the most precious thing to someone somewhere.