I first met Michael C. Blackwell when I was a teenage resident at Broyhill Home in Clyde during in the late 80s. Although his attendance at Broyhill’s annual talent show made me nervous, once I met him, he made me feel at ease. I witnessed this same thing when my husband Todd and I served as cottage parents, when I served in Dr. Blackwell’s office, and later when I was a founding team member of NCBAM (North Carolina Baptist Aging Ministry). Through the years, I have realized the magnitude of his persona and his ability to personally connect with people in a very real way and make everyone feel at ease.
I was attending the annual session of the Baptist State Convention in 2006 after the publication of “Just Call Me Mickey,” and Dr. Blackwell was available for a short window of time to autograph copies for convention attendance. My assignment was to help Dr. Blackwell by greeting each person as they approached, open their book to the appropriate page, and hand it to Dr. Blackwell to inscribe. I think at some point it was suggested that I also provide for Dr. Blackwell the person’s name, but that task was completely unnecessary.
The line grew to be quite long and I diligently focused on making sure I completed my assigned tasks efficiently, not wanting anyone to have to wait. One by one, as people approached, I took their books, presented the correct page to Dr. Blackwell and watched. One by one, Dr. Blackwell would look directly at them, call them by name (first and last, mind you) and speak personally to them as if they’d been good friends for many years.
After the first few people passed by, I thought that Dr. Blackwell had gotten lucky. That they’d either worn a name tag or they were personal close friends. But then I began to watch the people’s faces as he spoke to them and saw how surprised they were by his recollection of them and his ability to call them by name.
For many, he would ask about someone they each knew: a classmate in college, a friend in seminary, or a fellow minister. Others, he would ask about their parents or a sibling, often asking about the health of one or the other and if they’d recovered from a recent illness or operation. I must confess that I thought he had a trick of some sort up his sleeve to help him remember all the details, but it wasn’t until the conversation about the red barn that I was down-right flabbergasted.
I’ve long-since forgotten the person’s name or where she was from, but as I listened, Dr. Blackwell inquired about a local establishment from “the old days” and, because it wasn’t easy to find, mentioned how you had to turn at a red barn to get there. The person with whom he was speaking was just as shocked as I was that he knew about the establishment and the red barn, so much so that it took her a moment to recall what Dr. Blackwell so easily remembered.
As each person’s book was being inscribed, Dr. Blackwell was investing more than his signature as a keepsake. He was investing in each person standing before him; confirming that he has always seen each as a valuable, memorable individual and that person stopping by to say hello meant something to him, too.
Though all of us don’t possess the same level of persona as Dr. Blackwell, every one of us can take the time to personally invest in the people right in front of us helping to ensure that they feel valuable, memorable and that the interaction with them means a great deal.
When I was a child in care, he made me feel that way. Today when I see him on campus, he will wave, call my name, and through his action remind me that I am a person of value to him.
Thank you, Dr. Blackwell, for the gift of seeing me and the thousands of other children who have come to Baptist Children’s Homes throughout your 35 years of service.