Doc Thompson was one of the remarkable characters I was privileged to know when I was serving First Presbyterian Church of Pascagoula, MS. He was a retired dentist, who after his wife’s early and untimely death, managed to keep his dental practice going while raising their six children. Pretty amazing man, astoundingly impressive family.

          By the time I became his Pastor and we met and began to know one another, Doc was well into retirement, and living alone in his home. The realities of life started catching up with him (he was deaf as a doorpost, but that’s a story for another day), and he had cancer.

          With a loving family and a crack medical community who all loved him very much, Doc got the best of care. But sometimes even the best of care can’t beat cancer, and he was fighting a losing battle. At one daughter’s request, I had the “How’s your soul” visit with him one day, and he shared with me that he loved the home he was going to, but he wasn’t quite ready to go there just yet.

          I think it was the day before Easter, and Doc was in the hospital (had been for a while), and I went to visit him that Saturday morning. As I walked towards his room, I saw two adult children outside in the hallway.

          “I don’t think I’d go in there right now if I were you,” his son Leslie said. “Pop’s getting a sponge bath. Too bad he’s out of it, I think he’d enjoy it,” Leslie laughed.

          “I’ll make another visit and swing back by in a bit,” I laughed. And that’s what I did; I went to see another church member, letting that visit stretch more than I ordinarily would (when you’re in the hospital, you’re there for care, not visits.)

          After a bit, I wandered back to Doc’s room. I knocked on the door, hearing voices inside, heard the “Come in” invitation, and walked in to see Tricia on the door side of the bed leaning over her Dad, trying to get him to respond to her. Leslie was on the other side of the bed, Libby was standing at the foot.

          “We think he can hear us,” Tricia said as she walked around the bed to the side where Leslie was standing. “But we can’t get him to respond. See if you can hear him.”

          I stepped close to the bed, and laid my hand on his shoulder. “Doc,” I said (pretty loudly—remember I said he was deaf as a doorpost?) “Doc, it’s Chuck Roberts.”

          He opened his eyes, and looked at me intently. Then he looked at Tricia and Leslie, then back at me.

          “Doc, I’m your Pastor, Chuck Roberts.”

          He looked at me as I said that, then he bellowed—BELLOWED—loud enough to be heard ‘round the world; “I KNOW WHO YOU ARE!!! YOU’RE MY PASTOR! AND YOU’RE FIRED!! YOU HEAR ME, BOY? F-I-R-E-D! (he spelled the word out) PUT ME THROUGH ALL THIS (I need to redact the word he used at this point, as it is not approved for young readers, but it began with an S)!!!!!

          Then Doc serenely closed his eyes, and relaxed, and was asleep, or out of it, or something.

          Stunned at the energy behind his voice, I looked across the bed to see Tricia trying not to laugh out loud, as Leslie and Libby smothered their own laughter. “Well, we heard that,” Tricia laughed.

          I laughed it off—I really did—and headed on home. I don’t remember the remainder of the day, but I remember what happened as we ate dinner at my house that night.

          We’ve always had the rule that we did not answer the phone during a family meal (no TV, either), but this night, as we were eating and the phone rang, sensitive to Doc’s condition, I asked Lib to get the phone when it rang.

          She picked it up and I heard her say, “Oh, hi, Perry,” and my heart sank. Perry was Doc’s oldest son, and a very close friend of ours. Then Lib got a confused look on her face, and said, “Perry, I don’t know what you’re talking about. Let me let you talk to Chuck.”

          I’d not told her about Doc firing me, you see.

          When I answered the phone, Perry said, “Pop may have fired you, but the rest of us are going to keep you,” he laughed. I chuckled (pardon the pun), and he assured me that there was nothing to worry about. Turns out he’d fired his Doctor a day or so earlier, but that, as my firing, changed nothing. We both stayed on the job.

          It was a week later that Doc was promoted to the Church Triumphant, but that—and a few other Doc stories—will be for another day.