“Be of Good Cheer”: The Jimmy Lawrence Legacy


“Hey, pops, what’s a good name for my dog?” Dad mulled the question over in his mind, giving it considerable attention. My younger sister waited expectantly knowing that his suggestion would be no ordinary name such as Duke or Spot.

“How about Forsteroporps?” We erupted in laughter, but we all knew the dog now had a name. I’m still not certain of the correct spelling, if there is such a thing, but I do know that it turned out to be quite a feat to call “Here Forsteroporps” over again in rapid succession. So when dad named our next dog Kanorblethorpe, we just settled for calling “Here dog!”

As small children, we looked forward to dad’s homecoming every night. He could be counted on to initiate a game of Twenty Questions at the dinner table or come up with a homespun fairy tale later in the evening. Possessing a unique sense of humor, he enjoyed relating jokes, which were made even funnier by his inability to remember them correctly.

As the father of five daughters and one son, dad developed into the prototypical over-protective father. When a date would bring us home, he would allow us a generous five minutes alone in the car before flicking the porch light on and off, signalling “Time’s up. Come on in.” We generally bid a hasty farewell at this point to avoid the embarrassment of seeing dad march out toward the car in his pajamas.

I smiled inwardly, recalling these childhood memories of my father as I sat outside his office at Brigham Young University, waiting for him to finish his conference so I could visit with him for a few minutes between my classes. The door to his office opened, and I heard dad’s familiar parting sentiment: “Be of good cheer.”

The Savior’s words—“Be of good cheer.” The words spun around in my mind and tugged at my heart. How could anyone speak these words under such circumstances? I caught a glimpse of dad through the door, his face mirroring briefly the pain surging through his body as he attempted to stand. Then a smile flooded his countenance as he extended crippled hands to me.

My mind raced back over the years. I was twelve years old; it was almost Christmas, and daddy was in the hospital. He had contracted rheumatoid arthritis as a Marine in the Second World War, and now the insidious disease seemed to have won its first real victory, crippling his legs so severely that the doctors held no hope that he would ever walk again. But if he couldn’t provide for his family, what was going to happen to us? And what was going to happen to dad?

The doctors allowed him to spend the Christmas holidays at home. But while there was always something comforting and reassuring about his presence, seeing dad in a wheelchair was painful for all of us.

On Christmas morning, after all the gifts had been opened, dad announced, “I know I haven’t been able to give you very much for Christmas, but I do have one special gift for you.” With braced legs and a great deal of painfully concentrated effort, he managed a few steps under his own power. At that moment I realized that my father was no ordinary person. I had underestimated a man of profound faith and strength of character—a man whose great love for his family and his Father in Heaven, together with an incurable belief in the goodness of life, had spurred him on to victory.

It is said that victory pays a price. Dad learned to walk again, but each day of his life he suffered untold agony from the arthritis. “Surely,” I thought to myself, “the Lord will not require much more pain from him. He’s too good. He never complains, although he has very good reason to. And despite his constant pain, he reaches out to people, loving them and fanning the spark of hope and inspiration in those who are discouraged. He is a genuine friend, unmindful of social position among his friends and treats them all with love, dignity, and respect. The Lord blesses good people like dad, doesn’t he? Surely, he will cure dad very soon now.” We loved dad so much that his physical pain had become our heartache.

The years passed, with no improvement. In a desperate attempt to alleviate his pain, dad visited a doctor who promised hope for his condition. A new medication did, in fact, relieve the pain to a certain extent. Soon, we thought, we will see the end of this terrible affliction.

But in November 1967, dad was admitted to the hospital again, this time with a collapsed back. The medication he had taken for two years had slowly drained his backbone of calcium until he lay helpless in bed. This was dad’s greatest fear—to be totally dependent on others, unable to be his own master.

On Christmas day, we all managed smiles and cheerful greetings as we walked into his hospital room. With some effort I maneuvered my pregnant body around the bedrail and kissed him. I felt like a child again, reassured by a loving father that everything would be all right. How strange that I should be receiving strength from him. He smiled at me with a certain glow I shall never forget and began talking excitedly about the not-too-distant birth of his first grandchild. Children always held a special place in his heart.

While combatting his back problem, he knew that something would have to be done about his hip. The socket had worn paper thin, and doctors had told him that he would eventually become a permanent wheelchair occupant if nothing were done to correct the damage. The alternative was to undergo an operation that would replace the ball of the hip bone and suspend it in such a way that it would no longer rub against the socket. But the operation itself threatened a fifty percent chance of permanently crippling him.

Dad underwent the lengthy operation. It seemed to be successful. However, it would require six months recuperation time before we would know for certain.

Shortly after his surgery I gave birth to the grandchild for whom he had so patiently waited. I was very anxious for dad to see her, but no small children could enter the patients’ rooms; so I waited in the lobby of the hospital while arrangements were made to bring dad down in a wheelchair. I saw him coming, and our eyes met in mutual excitement and sharing of this new baby; then I laid my little daughter in his arms. As I saw him tenderly caress her, a single tear fell upon her cheek.

During the six months of dad’s recuperation, we began to feel more hopeful. With great faith in the Lord, he learned to walk again for a second time. He resumed his position at Brigham Young University as chairman of the Program Bureau and became active again in one of his greatest loves—sports. He couldn’t participate physically, but he continued as the BYU sportscaster for many football and basketball games. And best of all, he was among the people he loved.

I stood up and walked into dad’s office. How good it was to see him there again, busily absorbed in his work.

“Well, how’s my Kay-Kay, today?” I was a married woman, but he called me by my childhood nickname. “How are your classes going? And how’s my little granddaughter?” His conversations reflected a deep interest in others. Perhaps that was why it was so comforting to talk over my problems with him, as I did that day. He listened with interest, and his advice, as usual, hit at the heart of the problem. As I was leaving, he looked at me intently and said, with an understanding smile, “Be of good cheer.”

For my father, this motto was a way of living and believing—an attitude which sustained him through yet another agonizing trial. His left hip was deteriorating rapidly and would require an entire artificial socket. He underwent the surgery, but our hopes for a quick recovery were dashed when his leg was accidentally broken during therapy. How much could one person endure? How much more pain and heartache? We all hit bottom at this point—even dad. But gradually, his own ingrained philosophy of counting his blessings instead of his problems slowly rose to the surface to conquer his depression.

His recovery was not all that we had hoped for. He could walk, but only with crutches. Yet he found his greatest happiness at this time in what he would term an “over-abundance of blessings.” He saw his oldest child and only son graduate from Stanford University with a doctoral degree and one month later marry a wonderful young woman in the temple. He saw another daughter graduate from college and two days later present him with his second grandchild, a boy. His youngest daughter graduated from high school. Two more daughters were making marriage plans, and another had come home from California to visit. His future finally looked bright.

My phone rang early on the morning of 13 July 1972 as I was busily preparing for a day that promised to be productive and happy. I answered the phone somewhat absent-mindedly, but my senses were restored quickly at the shocking news: dad had slipped and fallen down the basement steps. He had been rushed, unconscious, to the hospital.

“Please God,” I prayed inwardly while racing to the hospital, “don’t let dad have to endure any more trials!” I was painfully aware of dad’s brittle bones, and I briefly visualized him spending months in a hospital bed. The prospect was more than I could bear. “Please, dear Father, spare him any further agony.”

The Lord released dad from the mortal body which had bound him to pain for so many years. For a quarter of a century dad had met the foe head-on, and now the victory was his. A single epitaph on the gravestone of this gentle, courageous man recalls a lifetime of love and faith: “Be of good cheer.”

[photo] Photography by Eldon K. Linschoten

Mary Kay Peirce, a mother of five, is Relief Society president in her Orem, Utah, ward.