A smile never increases in price or decreases in value.
As I looked at the huge body of my old friend and business partner, it occurred to me that what I saw was not Rex. Yes, it was his body lying inert on the ICU bed, air and food and drugs being pumped into it to keep the heart and lungs functioning, but it was not Rex.
When I first met Rex A. Jones in the spring of 1965, he was 29 years old, and I was a mere 22. I’d been hired as a health insurance agent, given an hour or so of training, and put out in the field to flounder. Rex could sense my growing frustration over the next couple of weeks, so he offered to train me. We rode together for three days, and then I hit the field running.
Over the next year we worked together many times pursuing small groups, and then he was promoted and moved to Amarillo. Over the next decade and a half our paths crossed several times, but we actually spent little time together. He hired me to work for him briefly once, and I hired him even more briefly once, but mainly we went our separate ways.
In 1984 I moved back to Fort Worth from West Texas, and we were reunited. I was a fairly new Christian with very little knowledge, and he became my mentor in the Word.
A couple of years later, we formed a loose business partnership. We never had a written partnership agreement, and each of us was always free to pursue separate business. Over the next two decades, we had a couple of times when we went our separate ways for short periods, but we always got back together.
The baby he’d just adopted when I met him stood beside me in that ICU room—a tall, gray-haired, successful trucking business owner. On the other side of his son stood the woman who had almost turned me off of coffee with the strong concoction she kept on the burner of her stove all those years ago. They’d been divorced few years after I met them, but they’d always remained friendly, and I was not surprised to see her in his room.
Pat wasn’t the only person Rex ever divorced. He divorced himself from me a couple of times, from most of the friends he ever had (although they kept coming back, as I did), from several other women, and from half the doctors and half the pastors in North Texas.
To say that Rex was opinionated or hard-headed would be a gross understatement, as would saying that he was a loyal and loving friend. He always knew more than anyone else about almost anything, but he also exuded warmth and love. He was the most wonderful and most impossible man I’ve ever met—a summary that most of his friends and family agree with.
He drummed into my head through the years that forgiveness was essential to any Christian and that carrying grudges only hurt the carrier—yet there are several whom he could never forgive even though their slights were small and long ago. He preached about the need to be a part of a local church—but it’s been years since he has belonged to one. He used to chide our clients about the importance of having a family doctor—yet he alienated every doctor he saw in the last 12 or 15 years and ended up entering the hospital this last time without one.
Yes, my buddy Rex was a bundle of paradoxes and contradictions, but he was also a warm, wonderful friend. He could walk into a room full of strangers and know half of them in 15 minutes. And if he met them on the street next week, he’d remember them.
It’s with great sadness that I said good-bye to my old friend when they unhooked all the machinery that was keeping his body unnaturally alive, but now he’s finally with the beloved Jesus he always preached to anyone who would listen to him. Rest in peace, my friend.
David N. Walker is a Christian father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years as a health insurance agent. Most of that career was spent in Texas, but for a few years he traveled many other states. He started writing about 20 years ago, and has six unpublished novels to use as primers on how NOT to write fiction. Since his retirement from insurance a few years ago, he has devoted his time to helping Kristen Lamb start Warrior Writers’ Boot Camp and trying to learn to write a successful novel himself.