There is certainly no shortage of interesting people living in the neighborhoods surrounding White Rock Lake. I had the recent pleasure of spending an October afternoon at Autumn Leaves Retirement Center, visiting with the Rev. Canon Dr. Emmett M. Waits.
Autumn Leaves is the retirement community just off Garland Road that overlooks the lake. Father Waits and his little dog, Sassy, met me in the lobby, and we went to his apartment where we spent the next two hours chatting.
A sixth generation Kentuckian, Father Waits spent his childhood in both Kentucky and Indiana. The Great Depression brought more than economic hardship to his family, and by age 16 he was orphaned, having lost his mother when he was 10 and his father several years later. He says his grandparents were his refuge and his strength, and he often still thinks of them all these years later.
Before Father Waits became a priest, he was a journalist and worked for The Lexington Herald and The Louisville Courier-Journal. During his career in journalism, he interviewed many remarkable and famous people such as Katherine Hepburn, Eleanor Roosevelt and Helen Keller.
He interviewed Ms. Hepburn in New York and remembers her as being direct but very gracious. Eleanor Roosevelt was in Kentucky supporting the coal miner’s families during the strike when he interviewed her. He recalls that she was dignified, intelligent and a person of great warmth.
One of his most memorable interviews was with Helen Keller and her companion. Father Waits said that to this day if he feels down or disappointed he thinks about this extraordinary woman and his spirits are lifted. Other notable people that he had the opportunity to interview included Dale Carnegie, author of How To Win Friends And Influence People; Sergei Rachmaninoff, the Russian conductor and the King and Queen of Norway. Father Waits says that he loved journalism and would probably never have left it had he not been called to the ministry.
After attending seminary, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1949. He did graduate work in England at Canterbury and Oxford. He was a Chaplain at Parkland and the old Gaston Hospital in Dallas before becoming a parish priest. He served at St. John’s Episcopal Church in East Dallas from 1989 to 2003. Father Waits shared with me how God had always been there to open doors for him through whatever trials he may have faced.
I asked Father Waits what changes he had seen during his life for the good and those that were not so good. The “not so good,” he said, is the bitterness so often reflected in politics today.
The good: He likes living in Dallas and believes that Dallas has a vision of where it is going and the city continues to growi culturally.While he prefers small towns to big cities, he finds the small town atmosphere of Lakewood satisfying.
When asked about the best part of being retired, he replied “being in charge of your daily life.”
The best part of living in a retirement center? “The social contacts and making wonderful, new friends and hearing their stories.” In his own 90th year, he stresses how important it is for seniors to remain socially involved.
And, of course, we talked about Sassy, his dog. Father Waits had already revealed to me on the telephone before we met that Sassy is his best friend. When I asked him to tell me about Sassy, he said, “She keeps me going, she keeps me responsible, she’s funny, appreciative, invaluable, a blessing from God.”
“Speaking of God, do dogs go to Heaven?” I asked. He laughed, saying “If they don’t then I don’t want to go.” He told me about a book about the after life that says of Heaven, “There were all kinds of animals everywhere.”
I found a bit of Heaven at Autumn Leaves, and I was truly blessed by the October afternoon that I spent with Father Waits and Sassy.
Shiela Huffman is a columnist for BubbleLife. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.