Leslie Harold Whitehead was born on a small farm in Roy, Washington in 1919. One of several boys, the joke goes, his mother (Elsie) wanted a girl and insisted on dressing him in girl clothes. Or maybe that was just a family joke referring to the girlie baby clothes of the day. Either way, my grandpa was always good for a joke and took it as well as he dished it out. Maybe that's why he was such a great runner. He ran track and was apparently quite good at it.
Grandpa went to medical school and served some time in WWII. During his time in the war he spent hours searching his heart and the Bible for truth. Apparently he found it, since he became a pastor and was serving in that capacity when he was debilitated by polio in his mid-twenties. He was wearing a body cast and braces on his legs when He heard God say, "Loose him and let him go." He went upstairs, took off the cast and braces, and never put them back on. I don't think he was ever able to run, again, but that didn't stop him from running "the race marked out" for him (Hebrews 12:1). Let it be noted that I didn't know this about my grandpa until after he died. He walked with a very slight limp, the only sign of having struggled with polio.
Les served as a pastor and travelled more than once to Africa, Haiti, and Israel. He pastored churches all over the northwest and eventually became superintendent of the Northwest Conference of Free Methodist Churches. After that he and Grandma spent a year pastoring in the Philippines and years building up churches here in the Northwest USA. He was diagnosed with cancer and died in November of 1994. The final word: Two memorial services, one in Centralia, WA at a church he pastored there just before his death and one at First Church in Seattle, WA. Both packed out. Completely. My grandfather touched thousands of lives. That touches me.
Things I will always remember about Grandpa:
- He wasn't allowed to play cards growing up (too much like gambling), but he taught me to play poker (and a million other games, coining the term, "who dealt this lousy mess of cards?" just before winning, with a grin)
- He traditionally scored at least 200 in a game of Scrabble. He insisted on playing upside down.
- Grandpa was an amazing storyteller. His three pigs stories will live on in infamy (and on cd). He also read the entire Chronicles of Narnia, much of it on tape, for his grandchildren.
- He doubted God's word, sought the truth, and found it. In God's word. He didn't always have the right answers, but he was a great preacher. Or maybe that made him a great preacher.
- In his final years I remember him reading the entire Bible each month. He memorized large portions of scripture, some which he recited on his deathbed.
- A great sense of humor and a still air of melancholy both defined him.
- Grandma didn't like his driving. She still talks about it. No joke.
- "He spent his life teaching people to live, he spent his last year teaching people how to die."- Grandma Esther. He spent time in his last year travelling to nursing homes telling people about Jesus. He led many to Jesus through his own illness and imminent mortality.
- He did not want people saying untrue things about him in death, such as: "he could fix anything," "he always knew the right thing to say," "he was such a great man." Sorry, Grandpa. You were a great man. But you were never good with tools.
- My middle name is Leslie.
I would love to read the comments of family who have other memories of him...I'm sure I could write much more, but this is just a snapshot. Here's a link to his obituary. Couldn't find a picture online, but maybe I'll put one on, myself if one of you tech-saavy elders (with a scanner) can pass one on to me. See you soon, Grandpa. Further in and further up.