Messages That Matter
Children’s homes don’t get many doorstep babies anymore. You know, the proverbial infant in a basket or box wrapped in whatever covering a desperate, and often young, mother can find. Thankfully, many more and superior options are available today, even for those in the direst of straits. Below is the story of how a community stood in the gap for a sort-of doorstep baby, and remained there for more than seven decades.
“Mother: deceased. Father: whereabouts unknown. Child’s condition at time of entrance: skin and bones, rickets.”
The words on the faded page tell the story of George Washington Lawson Jr.’s arrival to the Louisville Baptist Orphans’ Home in 1928. He was a little more than eight months old.
At the age of six, Lawson could say only a few one-syllable words. He never scored higher than a 42 on an IQ test. He worked as a janitor at Spring Meadows Children’s Home in Middletown.
Lawson never owned a car or a home. He never voted or took a cruise. He never married or had children, yet at his recent funeral, the service had to be moved to a larger room because of the overflow crowd.
Before the service ended, the mourners gathered around Lawson’s casket and applauded the man to whom non were related by blood, but who shared the bond of a different sort of family.
“We’ve lost a tie to our past as an agency,” said Mike Dixon, vice president of religious life at KBC, and Lawson’s legal guardian.
“It’s a tribute to Kentucky Baptist Homes for Children that, for the last 72 years, George has been a part of who we are,” Dixon added.
While other children at the Louisville Baptist Orphans’ Home were adopted, placed with relatives or moved on to independence, Lawson stayed in the care of the Kentucky Baptist ministry that began in 1869.
Efforts were made to enroll Lawson in the Kentucky School for the Deaf in Danville to get some help with his speech difficulties. Lawson spent some time in a class for the deaf in the Louisville school district, then the home received a terse letter in 1937 from the district stating, “We can do very little to help George.”
“The school system gave up on George, but the home didn’t turn him away,” Dixon said. “ We never said, ‘We can’t take care of George.’”
Dixon said Lawson brought out the best in people. “Whenever I was with George, my smile-o-meter would go up,” he said. “I know I’d get an extra 10 or 15 smiles just by being with him. And when I was with him, I was always interacting with someone because people just responded to him. He was an accepting, wonderful individual.”
In 1949, the home moved from downtown Louisville to Middletown. Lawson worked and lived on the campus until his retirement in the mid-1990s.
“No matter who the director or CEO was,” Dixon said, “George always had his space.”
J.D. Herndon, superintendent of Spring Meadows from 1959 to 1969 remembered Lawson as an asset to the home.
“George was always busy doing what needed to be done, and there was something about him that people responded to,” Herndon said.
Kentucky Baptists met Lawson’s material needs as individual donors, as the Spring Meadows Auxiliary and as KBC staff members, according to Dixon, Herndon and Larry Dauenhauer, KBC’s former vice president for administrative services.
It was Herndon who wrote Selective Service on Lawson’s behalf when he was drafted in 1961. It was Dauenhauer who helped manage Lawson’s finances and purchased furnishings for his apartment. And, when Lawson retired, it was Dixon who became Lawson’s’ legal guardian, overseeing Lawson’s medical care and his move to the Baptist Towers retirement home.
“George is a symbol to me of what it’s all about,” Dauenhauer said. “The effort was well done. Kentucky Baptists were willing to look out for George when there was no one else.”
The channel of blessing went both ways, according to Herndon and Dixon.
“We always had George over for Christmas every year,” Herndon said. “And he always had a present for each of our three daughters. Even after we left Spring Meadows, whenever he saw me, he would always ask about my wife and our daughters by name.”
The last eight years of George’s life, most Saturdays would find him with Dixon and Dixon’s daughter, Bri, who is mentally disabled.
“No matter who you were, George always told you how pretty you were,” Dixon said. “And he would always tell people, ‘I’m older than you.’ Who wouldn’t want to be told they aren’t the oldest one in the room? He reminded us all how young we could be.”
May 22, 2001 by Dannah Prather, partnership editions editor, Western Recorder