OPINION COLUMNS

Louis Gage: an inspiration

By Gerre Joiner | Published Wednesday, March 29, 2017
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I was recently honored to minister to the family of Louis Wayne Gage after his death. The funeral was unlike any funeral I’ve ever attended. If you knew Louis, you’d have been proud to be there.

Louis was born July 17, 1949, to Coke and Marie Gage with a birth disorder we know as Down syndrome. The chromosomal disorder was fairly common when Louis was born. Approximately one in 700 babies born in 2017 is born with this disorder.

Louis’ physical appearance was common to Down syndrome, but he didn’t have many of the other difficulties associated with this condition.

  • He had no heart defects.
  • His hearing was good. (Friends who made Louis a promise, forgot about it, and hoped that Louis hadn’t heard or didn’t remember the promise were always reminded that he did hear and he did remember.)
  • His intellectual and developmental limitations were extremely minor compared to many with the syndrome. Louis’ support team (his family and friends) expected a lot from him and spent much time helping him.

Louis lived with his parents until his mom died. He then moved to the home of C.L. and Patti Gage.

They prepared room in their home for Louis that included living quarters and space for Louis’ many hobbies and collections:

  • He was a huge fan of Elvis Presley. The room had Elvis memorabilia all over.
  • He had a display case filled with dolls of all sorts and sizes.
  • His collection of classic movies was something to behold.
  • Baseball cards abounded.
  • Photographs of his favorite wrestlers were placed on the walls in a few out-of-the-way places. (Wrestling tights …)

He also was a very personable and social person. He loved to dance, and he was a ladies man. His standard greeting for one of his female friends was a kiss on either the hand or the cheek. A hug was in order no matter where the kiss was placed.

Friends with whom he traveled knew him to be a good partner on the road. They frequented Branson, Mo.; Nashville, Tenn.; Pigeon Forge, Tenn.; Eureka Springs, Ark.; San Antonio; Las Vegas; Ruidoso, N.M.; and many more points of interest. His most-often used phrase was, “I’ll go.”

Louis was extremely organized. Pictures of celebrities and stars were clipped from magazines and carefully placed in albums. His “briefcase” was perfectly organized, including pens, pencils and business cards. His closet was a thing to behold. Clothing was sorted in every way clothing could be sorted.

He was very athletic. He could pitch and catch a baseball with the best of the best of his family. He always did well in the Special Olympics, especially the 100-yard dash and the shot put.

He was a local celebrity, having been recognized in 1998 as City Manager of the Day. Mayor Bobby Wilson gave Louis a key to the city and a city employee jacket. Chief Rex Hoskins promised him a real police badge. After a few meetings during which Louis asked Rex, “Do you have my badge?” Rex remembered the badge and presented it to him. Louis then had his badge, and Rex had done what he’d promised to do.

Louis was always included in conversations between friends at get-togethers. If he wasn’t adding to the conversation, he was listening and processing what was being said.

During one conversation between the men in the group, the topic of “how do you shave in the morning” came up. Among the comments was that of Wylie Medder when he said, “I shave while I’m sitting on the potty.”

Wylie thankfully gave very few details, but he did mention where he sat while he shaved. The next morning, Patti found Louis sitting on the potty, fully clothed, electric razor in hand. She noted quickly that he had shaved off his eyelashes, one eyebrow, one sideburn, all the hair on the left side of his head, and, of course, the beard on the left side of his face.

Patti asked, “What in the world are you doing?” To which Louis replied, “Wylie does it.” At Patti’s suggestion, nobody ever mentioned personal hygiene routines in Louis’ presence again.

Louis knew important people. When he’d see James Wood on television, he’d say, “I know James Wood. He’s a good man.”

When he’d see Hoss Cartright, one of the stars of “Bonanza,” he’d say, “My daddy knows Hoss Cartright.”

I’m not sure about the average life span of a person with Down syndrome, but I’m almost certain Louis’ life was longer and more meaningful than average. He was taken care of in a most selfless and lavish way.

He had what he needed to be happy, and he brought joy to the caregivers who were fortunate to be in his life. Dr. Kelley Tibbels, Louis’ longtime physician, told Patti, “You should write a book on caring for a special needs person.”

If you know Patti, you know she expects the best from those around her, and she provides “instruction” regarding how that expectation can be met. Louis was no exception. She held him accountable for his behavior. She loved him through the good times and the bad. Patti and C.L. are to be commended.

I did some research to help me understand more about the spiritual condition of one with Down syndrome after death. I believe Louis’ soul is in heaven at this moment because he never said, “no” to the “follow me” invitation of Jesus Christ.

At the graveside, someone wondered what Louis might be doing at that moment.

They said, “I’ll bet he’s visiting with Elvis and Hoss Cartright.” Overhearing the conversation, I added, “… and I’ll bet he’s telling them, ‘I know James Wood. He’s a good man.'”

Gerre Joiner is a semi-retired church musician and has lived in Decatur since 1999.

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