Beth and John Mercer's Bequest with Intention
In 1939, William Glenn Lawson graduated from UTMB and went on to become a dermatologist, who earned the profound respect of his peers and patients throughout his life and career, which he dedicated to the Navy. While his achievements were impressive as a doctor and a captain, executive officer and ultimately commanding officer in his posts with Naval Hospitals from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to Orlando, Florida, his story becomes that much more remarkable when one learns that he was raised on a farm in Palestine, Texas without electricity or indoor plumbing. It quickly becomes evident that his childhood and his family's struggles inspired kindness, hard work and a passion for serving others. These are the tenets that shaped his life and all whose lives he touched.
GRACE IN GIVING
In truth, this story is as much about Dr. Lawson and his legacy at UTMB, as it is about the legacy that he created within his own family—a legacy that inspired his daughter, Beth Mercer and her husband, John to dedicate the family inheritance from Dr. Lawson to UTMB, the institution Dr. Lawson loved. With this planned gift, they are establishing a scholarship fund in Dr. Lawson's memory to provide financial support for doctors who wouldn't otherwise be able to attend medical school.
As one delves into the quiet lessons taught by Dr. Lawson that he demonstrated through acts of kindness towards others, stewardship of the natural environment, respect for science and learning, all expressed with humility and gratitude—it is understandable how Beth Mercer became the warm, compassionate and grounded person she is today—and how she built a wonderful partnership with her husband, John, who reflects many of Dr. Lawson's principles and qualities in his own life. It also explains why Beth and John felt compelled to make a bequest intention to UTMB that would allow generations of worthy and talented UTMB scholarship students to know and appreciate the name of Dr. William Glenn Lawson, and pursue their dreams of becoming doctors—even if the odds were against them.
LIVES FILLED WITH GRATITUDE
Beth Mercer asserts, "Daddy was the fairest man you would ever meet. He would always give somebody the benefit of the doubt, ALWAYS. He always listened to both sides and never judged until he had all the facts. People I didn't even know would come up to me to tell me what a wonderful commanding officer he was. He was just really a special, special person."
Beth and John are quick to agree that Dr. Lawson was a unique and special individual, and went on to say, "He was a very positive person. He always made the best of every situation. He wanted people to be happy, and get along, but he was very quiet about it. Maybe it was more through his actions than it was about words that he achieved or went about that. He was really very soft spoken. You would never hear him raise his voice in anger. He would accomplish a lot of things in a quiet manner."
And it was this quiet manner that modeled a lifetime of achievement—as a doctor, a husband, a father and a leader. "I can remember him saying that he always wanted to be a doctor," recalled Beth.
When Dr. Lawson first went into medicine, he thought he was going to become a surgeon, but during a surgery rotation, he started treating a man with gangrene, who was to have his leg amputated. Through Dr. Lawson's treatment of the condition, he managed to save the man's leg—and then decided to change the course of his career to specialize in dermatology.
According to Beth, her parents, William and Esther Lawson, were a unified and dynamic duo. When Dr. Lawson first went to work with a family friend as a city physician in Brunswick, Georgia and met the lovely Esther, one of six kids from a close-knit family in Waycross, Georgia, Dr. Lawson was smitten. Since Dr. Lawson was an only child, he loved the large family gatherings that Esther's family provided—and Dr. Lawson then encouraged his two daughters, Beth and Missy, to appreciate extended family throughout the years.
Beth shares, "Mother and Daddy were very much a team, down to their parenting styles and made decisions together. They were always giving back to the church and to different charities—and we saw that growing up, so you know, I have always been that way."
GOOD STEWARDS OF THE EARTH
"My parents never wasted anything," Beth said. "They recycled before it was a popular term. `Don't throw something away if it can be used again.'" John chimes in, "We still have folded aluminum foil that we re-use—that we learned from our parents. We turn off the water when we are brushing our teeth. Little things like that that you see your parents do."
Beth goes on to say, "My dad was big on saving and investing, and he did some very wise investing. He knew the importance of putting money away for the future—and it's because of that, we are able to give our gift to UTMB now—because of him, and his philosophy of not being wasteful."
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON-IN-LAW
It is clear that the loving relationship that Beth's parents shared is reflected in the marriage she built with her husband, John, who, according to Beth, embodies many of her father's best qualities.
"My parents just adored John. My mother, when we would come home to visit (and we tried to do that as often as possible), would always make him Eggs Benedict!" John echoes, "They treated me very well."
Beth went on to say, "John and Daddy used to do woodworking projects together. They always enjoyed their time together. You hear all of these horror stories about in-laws—well, you would have thought that John was their blood."
It is rare when a son-in-law loves and reveres his father-in-law, as if he were his own father, but this becomes clear when John describes his genuine admiration and love for Dr. Lawson. After telling stories of creating silver chests and elaborate pieces with his father-in-law in the woodshop, John softly chuckles and says, "We had a lot of fun making sawdust together."
THE GEORGIA PEACH WITH TEXAS PRIDE
Beth and John Mercer have spent their lives together in Moultrie, Georgia with her academic ties to Valdosta State University and John's 32 year career as the now retired photographer for local newspaper, The Moultrie Observer.
"I moved to Moultrie and expected to be here only 2 years," Beth said. "I first worked at the Moultrie Speech and Hearing Center. After it closed, I moved to the Public Schools for 20 years. I then taught at Valdosta State University. I joined the faculty there and was the director of the on-campus clinic for 8 years, but had to retire early because of back problems—but I loved it."
She went on to say in a loving way, "John is the reason I didn't leave Moultrie after two years. A friend of ours introduced us. Several of us rode horses together on the weekend, attended local football games. He was the photographer for the local newspaper. We married in 1979, but knew each other for six years before that."
Georgia may be their home state now, but there is no doubt that Beth Mercer exudes Texas pride—and her father, Dr. William Lawson, made sure of that.
"Daddy was a Texan through and through—born in Houston, went to Rice University, then he went to UTMB—and he was ALWAYS, ALWAYS proud to be a Texan—and I was ALWAYS as a little girl so proud to tell people, 'My dad is from Texas!'… and the bluebonnets were always my favorite flower, because that was from Texas."
AN EXTRAORDINARY GIFT FOR AN EXTRAORDINARY INSTITUTION
Just as her parents before her, Beth and her husband, John are clearly a team, and they made this decision together to establish the memorial scholarship fund as a tribute to the man they both loved.
Beth explains "My dad was such a special person, and I just somehow wanted him to be remembered in some way. Of course, Daddy had daughters, so there is nobody to carry on the Lawson name. That's a part of it. I just kept thinking about what Daddy would want—and he left this [inheritance] to my sister and me. I don't know what she would have done with her share [Missy passed away in 2000], I just think about the fact that we NEED good doctors and some of those aspiring doctors may not have the financial resources.
"I know how hard my dad worked. He grew up with not much… and that never stopped him from achieving what he wanted to achieve. He just worked as hard as he had to work. Nowadays so many people are handed things… and lots of people do just the bare minimum to get by. Daddy never did the bare minimum—everything he did, he put his all into—and that's what he showed us."
WHEN YOU ARE HAPPY, WHAT MORE DO YOU NEED IN LIFE?
Beth shared her mother's philosophy about the "emptiness" that comes with the excessive accumulation of material things. In many ways, this philosophy has guided both Beth and John in all of their life's decisions, including their generosity in establishing their own bequest at UTMB to support the scholarship fund in memory of Dr. William G. Lawson, M.D., providing scholarships to outstanding students with strong work ethic and financial need.
"If my mother said one time, she said it millions of times, 'That is just stuff—anything material is just stuff. It will not make you happy—it will not make a difference in who you are or anything else, it is just stuff.'"
She quietly reflects. "Both of my parents were great role models. We always knew that they loved us—and they provided well for us—and they encouraged us."
"Yes, we could have taken that money, and we could have built a really big house, but we don't even want a big house. We don't have any children, and we are perfectly happy in this house we have been in since 1989. It suits us very well—and you know, we don't spend a bunch of money on clothes or travel, we really just don't spend much money, because we are happy—and we are happy with what we have."
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