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Cruise Highlight – Larry Gatlin

on January 30, 2014

I promised yesterday to tell you this special story. Previously on this blog, I’ve shared that my mother was a recovering alcoholic. Back in the late 1980s, she was in the midst of a bad relapse. Our family worked with her therapist to do an intervention and she agreed to go into rehab at a wonderful addiction treatment center called Father Martin’s Ashley in Havre de Grace, Maryland.

A few years later in 1992, the center planned a big event to dedicate Bantle Hall. They invited all alumni and family to attend. Mom wanted to go and I said that I’d drive down with her from our home in New Jersey. The keynote speaker for the event was Mrs. Betty Ford. Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers were booked to perform in concert. It was a beautiful, inspiring afternoon. I will admit that I’d only started listening to country music a few years prior to this and I’d never seen the Gatlins before. Their concert made me a fan of their music. Larry Gatlin’s actions afterward made me a fan of him personally.

After entertaining the crowd outside on this warm day, still dressed in his performance attire, Larry stood in the small rose garden for at least an hour or more. There were many people, either those currently in program at Ashley or alumni, who wanted the chance to meet him. (Larry is himself in recovery. I’m not telling tales out of school. He openly talks about it and you can read his story online.)

In that hour, Larry was unfailingly patient, kind and warm to everybody in that long line. He had a hug, a handshake and a word of encouragement for each person. Every few minutes, an assistant asked if he was okay or if he needed to get back to the bus, but the meeting and greeting continued. At one point Larry told the other man that if he needed to do something he should go ahead, but Larry was fine with the people.

I was so impressed by his warmth and generosity of spirit that the experience became a life lesson for me. Honestly, I think it had something to do with me becoming so willing to talk about my eating disorder, weight loss surgery, and recovery journey. More than 20 years later, I’ve never forgotten that day. When I learned that the Gatlin Brothers would be on this cruise, I was excited to hear them perform again. I also hoped that maybe, just maybe, I’d have an opportunity to tell Larry this story. I thought that a celebrity should know and be acknowledged for that kindness he showed to all of those people.

Of course I wasn’t going to stalk him on the ship. 🙂 I just figured that if it was meant to be, it would happen.

On that day at sea last Monday, up at the line dancing after the Gospel Hour, I ran into Leslie again who introduced me to Cat whose husband is also in Restless Heart. We talked about the gospel performances and something moved me to tell them the story. Cat and Leslie told me that they thought Larry needed to hear it. They encouraged me to write it out and if I didn’t see him, to give them the letter and they would make sure they gave it to him.

I went back to my stateroom and wrote everything down, including my thank you. I carried the letter around with me so I’d have it when I next ran into the ladies.

The following morning, I left it in my room while I went down for my morning walk and breakfast. I got my meal, the cruise ship equivalent of a healthy breakfast sandwich, and sat down at a table. Well, about five minutes later, I saw Larry Gatlin walking down the line on his way to the omelet station. No, friends, I did not bolt to my feet and proclaim, “Larry! I have to talk to you!” I did, however, smile and simply say good morning.

To my surprise, he stopped by my table, said good morning in return and then joked about my meal. Something along the lines of, “You’re on a cruise and that’s all you’re eating?” I sort of shrugged and, my mind racing, thought that this might be my best opportunity. I smiled and asked if he had one minute because there was something I’d been hoping to tell him. He waited and I started the story.

Clearly the ladies had already talked to him because I’d said no more than two sentences before he put his hand on my arm and asked, “Are you the woman my friends told me about?” With that he sat down at the table with me and listened. I told him everything. We talked a bit about how celebrities often have things asked of them and it can get tiring, but he said that he realizes how much he gets back. He also talked about being a Christian and trying to do good work. I told him that at Ashley when his assistant kept trying to give him an out to leave, he’d said that he was fine with the people and the Lord said, “Feed my flock.”

Larry asked me if I’d written my letter like Cat and Leslie suggested. I said that I had but didn’t bring it with me on my workout. He told me to make sure that I got it to him and to say hello if I saw him on the ship again. he then gave me a hug and a kiss and thanked me for making his day.

I had a little emotional moment after he left. I couldn’t believe that I’d gotten to do what I hoped. I also received another life lesson in being generous with time and attention. I’m no celebrity but sometimes all of us in regular life situations run into people who might want something of our time. You never know when giving someone attention, encouragement, or just a little extra kindness might have a positive effect. I came away resolved to be more patient as a general rule.

The next day, I got a chance to give him my note. The following day I ran into him again at the buffet. He thanked me for writing him a sweet letter. I thanked him for being a sweet man.

I have to say, my friends. This experience was definitely a highlight of a wonderful week.

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3 responses to “Cruise Highlight – Larry Gatlin

  1. Hope says:

    Wow, what an amazing story! I’ve got a little something in my eyes after reading it…

  2. Skye says:

    What a beautiful story! And how wonderful and amazing that you got to talk to Larry himself and tell your story. Grace isn’t an easy thing to incorporate into our lives, or to reach, but he obviously is a man with grace. How truly inspiring!

  3. Susanne says:

    That’s a wonderful story. I love it when people impact our lives. And sometimes it can be the smallest thing.

    Several years ago I was going to pick someone up at the hospital. It was a stressful time all around. Parking was difficult which added to the stress.

    Anyway, a woman in a van was coming out of the parking garage and she actually had the right of way. But she slowed down, gave me a smile and the thumbs up, and I was able to navigate and got a premium spot. Her smile and the gesture are like a freeze-frame in my mind, and her kindness has stayed with me years later.

    Kindness is a wonderful attribute that we can cultivate. I can well understand your reaction to Larry.

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