By Joe McDaniel –
It was a day in the mid-1970s that Rev. George Dixon, as pastor of First Baptist Church of Lake Worth, expected to be like any other day.
There were the usual pastoral duties and obligations. There also were the usual interruptions. One such interruption would give Dixon an experience unlike any he ever had. The now retired pastor, who served at First Baptist Church of Lake Worth for 13 years recently related the events of that experience.
“Roaring over our First Baptist Church of Lake Worth, Texas, the Carswell bombers interrupted phone calls, sometimes the preaching, or conversations,” Dixon said. “Studying for sermons often caused pauses and frustrating slowing down of thoughts. Change often happens suddenly. Phone ringing is one such happenstance. I reached for the phone when I was alone in my office. A new voice spoke.”
Dixon reached for a pen and paper as notes were vital to his phone data.
“The gentleman told me he was Grady Whitehead and he had just gotten out of prison,” Dixon added. “He said a miracle got him out and he wanted me to come and explain to him how such a thing could happen.”
Of all the requests Dixon had received as his pastor, this one caught him off guard.
“Immediately I felt helpless,” he said. “What a strange request. Who can explain miracles apart from knowing it was from God?”
Dixon wrote down Whitehead’s Shawnee Trail address in the Indian Oaks neighborhood of Lake Worth. He told him he soon would visit him. And soon he did.
“The old rock house sat back from the street and so I pulled into his driveway,” Dixon said. “Knocking on the door, a gruff voice said to come in. I opened the door and entered. Sitting on a rocking chair with a robe on, the large man said ’hello’ and to take a seat across the room from him. I walked across to him and shook hands and then took the proffered seat”.
Dixon studied Whitehead carefully as he
sat down. He saw a large, elderly man with hard features and a serious demeanor. The pastor took a quick look around the house. It seemed to reflect the man’s stern manner. Whitehead was born in Stephenville in 1887. Apparently either hard times or association with criminals led to Whitehead committing crimes at an early age.
“He was balding, rather heavy, and a presented body that looked to be forceful if not intimidating,” the pastor said of Whitehead. “He had busy eyebrows and a serious expression on his face. Next to him was a stand for magazines, a table top for a lamp and writing materials. A dark phone also sat there within his easy reach. The room was carpeted and large. I could see a kitchen in the rear and the place reeked of smoke cigar smoke to be exact.”
When he spoke, his eyes narrowed and you could tell he meant business. I had never met a man whose external manner was immediately broadcast as one you didn’t mess with. He must have been about six feet tall and weighed about 240 pounds.”
Whitehead began his story.
“He had owned a fence company on Jacksboro Highway, and had lost a wife some years back,” Dixon related. “He had a lady assistant who came in to help with his health problems. Now in his 80s, he said he had not always been a good man.
“In fact, he collected monies for two different gangs, one in Oklahoma and one in Texas. The monies came from scams his cronies operated in taking the wealthy and (the elderly’s) dollars. They would promise a great reward for investing in their plans and then the people would never see them or the monies again. I do not know how he got started in crime, but he said he had been at it a long time.”
Dixon said one thing Whitehead absolutely refused to do was rob the elderly of their money.
“He would not take the savings from old people. In fact, he got in trouble with the leaders of one gang when they discovered he
had warned an old couple they would never see their monies again if they invested in the scam.” Dixon said. “The gang sent two men to his door. He invited them in and sat in his rocking chair. They told him he was in danger for his refusal to get the monies they sent him for.”
“He told them never to send him after old people’s monies again. He would not take their life savings. And he told them he had a gun at hand in his stand and they might shoot him but he’d kill both of them before they finished. They let him get by with it and departed.”
Then Whitehead told Dixon of an incident that got him sent to prison.
“He told me, then, that he had helped a guy who had just gotten out of jail, went on a note with him to purchase an old used car,” Dixon said. “The man had used it to rob a store, got caught, and Mr. Whitehead was accused and prosecuted for conspiracy to commit robbery.”
Dixon said Whitehead claimed the judge who got him into his court was “out to get him.” He said the judge was known as “one of the worst crooks in Tarrant County”. Whitehead said the judge was nicknamed “The Racehorse Gambler.” He sentenced Whitehead, who was then almost 80 years old, to federal prison in Missouri.
Dixon said Whitehead enlisted the aid of an attorney. But after paying $10,000 in attorney’s fees Whitehead still sat in prison.
Then, one night while he was in prison, Whitehead felt the need to atone for his sins.
Dixon said, “He said that he turned over in his bunk bed one night and cried out to God to help him get out.”
Then came the “miracle” that Whitehead had mentioned to Dixon over the phone.
“He told me that later that evening a lady in the prison came to him and asked him if he wanted to get out. He said, ‘Sure, I do.’ She said for him to pack his bags and come with her. He told her to wait as he had to phone for a taxi and make some arrangements. She said, ‘No, if you want out, come with me now.’”
“So he followed her and was soon outside the gate of that prison. He eventually found transportation and was now back home and I was to explain to him how $10,000.00 could not get him out of prison but a miracle somehow through a lady in prison had gotten him away from there. I don’t know if she was an administrator in the prison or somebody who worked there in another capacity. What would I say? Where would I begin? Who was I to explain such a thing?”
Dixon claimed divine intervention was the source for his answer to Whitehead’s question.
“The Holy Spirit immediately gave me in that hour what I should say,” Dixon said. “So, I told him: ‘Mr. Whitehead, I am going to be blunt. I am going to shoot from the hips. I am going to talk in a language that you know.’”
“First, I told him the story of Cornelius, the centurion, who gave alms to the people and helped the Jews build their synagogue. He was a man who prayed to the Lord, and the Lord sent him a man named Simon Peter who explained to him the way of salvation. And he and his household families were saved.”
Then Dixon gave Whitehead his analysis.
“I told him, ‘Mr. Whitehead, Cornelius was a good man. But by your own statements, you are a bad man. But God is no respecter of persons, so he got you out of prison because you called to Him. And you are here to hear the gospel that can save you. The only difference between you and Cornelius is that you were not in a house like that soldier, but in a prison that you deserved and got.”
Dixon then explained to Whitehead how he could repent for his sins.
“So, I explained that Jesus died for him and if he would turn from his sins and believed Jesus was the Son of God who died for him and took his place, and repent and believe, he would be saved. But I warned him he had to mean business and asking God to save him had to be genuine and real,” Dixon said. “I led him in a sinner’s prayer, and he found peace and joy. His immediate response was that he hoped he lived long enough to help someone else get saved. I rejoiced in that it indicated he was a changed man.”
Dixon then explained to Whitehead the baptism process, but there would be a problem as Whitehead was crippled.
“I explained baptism to him as a means of obedience and identifying with the Lord and His people,” Dixon said. “Being a large man, I knew we could not get him up and down the steps in the baptistry in the church.”
Dixon took his dilemma to one of his church deacons, Gordon Swift, who also was a successful businessman. Swift had a solution. He recommended that the swimming pool in the backyard of his home would be the perfect place for he baptism.
“And so (Swift’s) home swimming pool became the place where (Whitehead) was baptized with some believers there to witness the event,” Dixon said. “If I remember right I think we all dressed in casual clothes. Whitehead sat in a chair at the edge of the pool. Two men on each side of the chair lifted and carried Whitehead into the shallow end of the pool.”
Dixon presented Whitehead for baptism, then gently laid him back in the chair for the emersion. The witnesses responded with a chorus of “Amen!!”.
“He was now a member of Christ’s body and the local First Baptist Church of Lake Worth. He never was physically able to attend church, but I visited him several times after that and he said. He also got his wish in that the lady who assisted him with his health problems came to know the Lord.”
Whitehead soon moved back to Stephenville. He passed away a changed man at age 88 in 1976.
Dixon summed it up like this: “Whether you are in the ‘dark’ at home, or in the ‘dark’ in the prison, turn to the Lord. He has someone for you. Jesus is seeking you. And He will perform the miracle in your life that you need.”
Lake Worth Historical Museum and Society
The Lake Worth Area Historical Museum is open Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Membership in the Lake Worth Area Historical Society also is encouraged. The group meets the first Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m. in a room located behind the museum. The event includes a pot luck dinner, a presentation, and a brief business meeting.