About a friend…

I had a feeling that it would not be easy to interview George, but I thought I could pull it off. We had the interview scheduled for Friday night. I was dreading it. As we were casually chatting that same afternoon, he unexpectedly asked: “Are you ready for the interview?” “I am ready if you are,” I said, a little confused and nervous, but with a look of confidence and usual formal tone that makes me appear all prepared even when I am not. Here was one of the most accomplished men I have ever had the privilege of meeting sitting in front of me and repeatedly saying –“alright mate, next question,” in a unique accent which he likes to call “speaking good English.” So, I take out the tape-recorder and he starts talking. You think of a massive and previously motionless thing starting to roll when he begins to talk; so profound and articulate that I can hardly annunciate my words anymore. A few minutes into the interview, I realized that, to my chagrin, all the questions I had prepared seemed suddenly irrelevant. He has a kind of no-nonsense stare, which made me think twice before asking a lame and cliche question. Honestly, this story would have been much better if I had typed out everything he said word for word.

In the little village of Seven Paths, North Carolina, George was raised in a family of farmers, with seven boys and three girls. His father was a sharecropper. They were very poor. He is transformed and emotional as he remembers his days as an eight year old kid with blond hair and blue eyes, carrying a big jar of water to his dad across the dusty fields. “I would die before I lose that water,” he said. “My father was waiting for it.”

“I am very, very proud of my humble beginnings,” he added with a satisfied smile. Then with a certain sense of urgency, he began to talk as though he was addressing a huge audience from the podium with a powerful voice: “The President that most books are written about, the President that most people speak about, the President that is most well-known worldwide has never changed—he was the 16th President of the United States—Abraham Lincoln, a household word. He had a very humble beginning.”

He has very strong views on family values. For him, the family is at the foundation of every society. “My father was my best friend,” he recalls, “I loved the ground he walked on.” I can tell that he has sweet memories of his parents and is still wishful of their guidance even after having come such a long way, when his eyes close in a long amen-like blink. He is somewhat annoyed by the fact that the current generation is so obsessed with activities without any substance and that they seem to have forsaken the values of family and home. “I have extremely little use for young men and women, particularly students, who do not have high regard for their parents.” He is rather a traditionalist and conservative yet always with an open mind. “The only thing you need to be narrow and restrictive about is when it comes to yourself, and that is only to make you a better person…. So that you might be of some use for God and the world,” he confidently said with intellectual rigor, after a silence that went on uncomfortably long.

The list of George’s significant achievements is absurdly long. There is no room on the page to count all of them. Just to name a few, he is the President of Sail of Hope International, an NGO that has Consultative Status with the United Nations, through which he does projects with locals and orphanages in Buriatia, Zimbabwe, Saipan, China, Russia, Philippines, and Malawi. He is a Board member for Sail of Hope for Moscow and is a contributing editor on Bolshoi Magazine in Moscow. The Russian government awarded him the Romanov Medal a few years ago for his work in Russian orphanages and his humanitarian aid work that he does. He is also on the Advisory Board for Eucon International College for Saipan.

After finishing his Master’s Degree in International Marketing, George lived in Israel for many years where he worked under Dr. Shlomo Hizak at the Jerusalem center located on the Mount of Olives. Not too many people get to work under a former security agent for the former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. Also, he is fluent in Hebrew and has picked up German, Russian and Danish during his travels worldwide. Yet, he is very humble for a man who has achieved so much in his lifetime. He is unpretentious and well-liked everywhere he goes. His graciousness is believable because you never get the sense that he is fooling you or trying to sway your opinion. He is unrelentingly pragmatic and has an eye on the smallest details. Again, he ignores nonsense, if you ask him about the places he likes to go for vacation, he says “forget the vacation,” and talks about his job. Howbeit I do know that he loves long walks by the seashore and through dense forests.

If it wasn’t for George, the mentally handicapped kids in Moscow orphanages would not get the coloring books with crayons, the only thing that is medically proven to make them happy and stimulate their imagination. If it wasn’t for George, no one would notice that using aluminum pots to cook the meals for those same kids is actually hazardous to their already weak health. He raised money to buy stainless steel pots. If it wasn’t for him, people in some of the most remote parts of the world, such as Siberia, would have not received containers of humanitarian aid, and a community in the northern parts of India in desperate need for Telugu Bibles would still be waiting for a source that would complete their spiritual needs. Of all the good that George has done, I think these ones appear largest, simply because they are so insignificant, personal and, mostly unseen. Yet, he never keeps track of all the good he has done for others, because he says “keeping records of your achievements helps stinking pride to grow inside us. Pride is like bad breath, everyone knows you have it but yourself.” So, how would such an accomplished and admired yet peculiar and challenging man define success? Can you guess? Sitting on his chair, scratching his arms, looking somewhat perplexed, empathetic, and even bemused, he says, “If I have helped someone at the end of the day or at the end of a long journey to some remote part of the world, it brings me peace and satisfaction. It never ever puffs me up or makes me proud, rather it humbles me that God, in His great mercies allowed me to be a part of His great plan to help men and women on this earth.” One of his favorite quotes is by Jim Elliot, husband of the famed author Elisabeth Elliot. Jim was a missionary who was killed by Auca Indians while trying to evangelize the native tribes in Ecuador. He said: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

One of his many passions is being a guest lecturer on university campuses. He is known to be an encourager and has done lectures in the United States, Russia, Saipan, Israel, Canada, Siberia, and Italy. He lectures on Biblical principles of maintaining godly character. “Character is what it is all about,” he said leaning forward and telling me to listen closely, “You can have the greatest mind on earth, but if you don’t have character, you are rotting in your soul and wasting your life.” Most of his character was formed growing up on the farm where he learned discipline and hard work from his parents. His life is a never-ending succession of travel all over the world, working on projects with high level government officials.

He has thoughts-lots of them, on almost every subject I raised. But, he is not afraid to reflect and ponder on what he has said, unlike many people of his rank who would hasten to give quick answers to every question in fear of appearing ill-informed, not so bright and not so well-rounded. The more I talk to him, the more I realize that I am short of facts and full of instinct. I realize that I lack that conversational zing that comes with having been all over the world, having done so much good and having worked with high-minded people and influential government leaders. It dawns on me that sometimes I dismiss atrocious problems in the world as too complex to solve because I feel powerless. While on the other hand George likes to take them on with relish…..looking forward to the difficulties of solving them.

At the end, it would only make sense if I asked George, whose last name by the way is Worrell, the oldest Anglo-Saxon name on earth, for words of wisdom he has to offer for us. Humbly expressing his gratitude for asking what he called “a lowly son of a farmer” for the interview and signaling that he could go on for hours with it, he said: “A student must be dedicated to his studies. If you don’t discipline yourself in your university studies and you’re not strong in your character, it is going to follow you into life.”

Although at the end he paid me a compliment saying “Good questions my boy. You quite surprise me with them,” I am fully convinced that on the back of his head, he most likely said: “But, you could have done a lot better, son!”

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The man to whom I owe much of my future…

In every stage of our lives, we are always looking for some one that would be a perfect example for us to look up to. For some that example may be a superhero, or well respected politician, doctor or preacher, and for others it can be their parents, teachers or a famous athlete. We are trying to imitate the qualities of the people we so admire and be as disciplined as they are, and there is this picture in our minds of who we want to be, but it seems something is always lacking. It seems as though knowing someone who nearly resembles the person we want to be, would greatly help us become that person.

Bill Dixon is that rare example that seems to lack in our society. He is soft spoken, well mannered and sophisticated. Yet, as you begin conversing with him, it becomes obvious how unusually kind and caring he is in life. His best quality is that he listens. During the thirty-five years that he was the Dean of students at Ouachita, he has perfected the art of listening. Certainly, by dealing with troubled and somewhat disobedient students for so long, it can be expected of him to be a good listener.

Because of his gentle and calm nature, he does not resemble a stereotypical dean who is that authoritative and scary figure students are used to know. Rather, his persuasiveness and ability to connect with students and understand them made him the Dean that former students respectfully talk about even after so many years of leaving Ouachita. Despite that he always made it clear that he meant business in any situation. Even at this point, most alumni who come back to visit have a story to tell about their encounter with Dean Dixon. Over the years, he had managed to become a father/counselor figure for many troubled students who now lead successful lives.

He radiates energy to all people around him. His seemingly immeasurable energy makes you aware of how rapidly you frequently declare yourself exhausted. His immense affection for life, humans and accomplishment makes you realize of your own negative mind. He is always hopeful, no matter what. He is well aware of all the impressive accomplishment of his life, but he is very humble, modest and careful about mentioning them.

After retiring as a dean, he took over the Travel Program at Ouachita in 2000. The program was originally designed for alumni but the plan was that it would ripple out to a larger group. “It has brought more people to Ouachita circle and the university has definitely benefited from it,” he said. “That was the original plan.” He officially retired last year but the word “retired” does not really apply to him. He now conducts business in his office at home and works longer than he used to.

“I am now doing what many people would like to do,” he says speaking of his life after retirement. “I travel quite a lot, my health is good and this puts me in a very enviable position that many people would like to be in.”

One thing he enjoys the most is travelling and he is fortunate to do a lot of it. Over course of his life, he has travelled to thirty something countries and every year he plan tours to at least three more places. This year, he has Egypt, Brazil, Israel, Jordan and Costa Rica on his agenda. He has seen the world and many people all over the world have come to see him. Each room in Dixons house is filled with traditional gifts from Africa, China, Peru, Brazil, Israel, Egypt and all the countries you can think of. Their whole house is an international museum.

Despite of all the amazing places he has been to, he finds China the most fascinating of them all. He cites his fascination with the Chinese history, culture and music as reasons for his attraction to the country. But most important of all, the graciousness of the Chinese people and all the friendships he has cultivated from there, are the main reasons for his visits to the country at least once a year since 2000.

“I have found the Chinese to be exceedingly gracious and by nature open to friendships,” he said, “and it is always great to go back and see my friends there.” “Nowhere in the world have I seen a progress that is so pronounced as in China,” he said, speaking of him witnessing and observing some major changes China is currently going through.

He talks about his wife in a way that is very affectionate and respectful. “I have been very blessed to have the wife I have,” he admiringly speaks of her, “she is not only wife but my best friend. I think that everyone needs that kind of a help-mate that can be the encourager and the person help you put the brakes on if you need to.” They have been married for almost forty-four years now and are perfect example of how to make the marriage work.

During his travels throughout the world, he has perfected another admiring quality: tolerance. His experience with many foreign cultures and beliefs and close to forty students with different backgrounds who have lived at his house in the past thirty years have enriched his life and outlook on things significantly he says. Surprisingly, his main source for tolerance comes from his faith. Most commonly, the roots of hate, conflict and intolerance are, rightly or wrongly, attributed to religion. His faith has taught him to accept and enjoy people regardless of their culture, background and religion. He looks for good everywhere he goes and knows that positive attitude can take you a long way. He would focus on what we have in common, which in most cases is a lot, rather than very few and seemingly important differences we have that keep us apart. “I have a strong Christian faith and this has been a key factor in helping me to learn and see and do as much as I have tried to do in my life.” He truly lives his faith.

“I was taught to say one important prayer and I have tried to say it every day of my life,” he said, “that prayer is: Lord, give me opportunities and a sense enough to realize those opportunities and have the backbone to do something about them.” That has been the main motivating factor for him to learn and try different things outside of the box. He enjoys writing, travelling, cooking and history. He has tried painting in the past and takes great satisfaction in doing restoration work to antiques. “I may not be master in anything,” he said, “but I enjoy what I do.”

Bill Dixon is a man with very few regrets, great integrity and patience. “I hope that integrity is something that I exhibit to everyone.” He has lived a full life and feels like he has fulfilled his purpose in life. When talking to him, you can’t help but notice many biblical references that he makes to support his points and I was tempted to ask how he would do as a preacher? “I think I would be terrible,” he responded with a big smile, “my talent does not lie in great speeches or words that would cause the audience to be spell-bound. My talent lies more on one on one than a crowd.”

I wish I could be like him.