Roy Exum: Celebrating Dr. Hiram Laws

Saturday, December 28, 2013 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

For years every Christmas I would bite the bottom of a Christmas card, grinding my teeth while moving my lower jaw tightly to and fro, and then – with nary a written word – mail it to Hiram Adoniram Laws III. He was my dentist for well over half of my life before he retired after some 61 years and when he’d see me a week or two later at church he would delightfully whisper, “I got your card and it was simply beautiful. Thank you … thank you … ”

So it was hardly lost on me that Hiram Adonis Laws III, a consummate Southern gentleman if ever there was one, went to heaven on Dec. 24 to spend his first day -- Christmas Day – celebrating the birthday and worshipping his Lord and Savior. You may remember a huge crowd gathered back in October to celebrate Dr. Laws’ 100th birthday so the family, hoping to keep the magic of that glorious day warm in a way that will last forever, opted for a quiet family-only service on Thursday.

Now it just so happens that I have been made privy to a letter that, unbeknownst to the family beforehand, Mary Elizabeth (Hulsey) Oropeza read at her grandfather’s funeral. (She is the daughter of Mary Laws Sulser, a childhood classmate of mine.) Because the great Dr. Laws meant so much to so many of us, and because my love for him was so loyal I helped him get a three-year lease on a new Lexus at age 98 (Mary co-signed; don’t worry), it is with great delight I share Mary Elizabeth’s words with the legions who adore “our” Dr. Laws:

* * *

TODAY IT IS DADA’S TURN

By Mary Elizabeth Hulsey Oropeza

Picture this with me ... We’re at the lake house. Dada (Hiram) is standing in the yard. He opens his arms wide to greet each grandchild—with his huge smile and heartfelt hugs that let us know how much he loves and cherishes us. This place...and these moments with Dada...are like heaven on earth.

Today, it’s Dada’s turn to be greeted by arms open wide, as God welcomes his good and faithful servant home. We know with “blessed assurance” that Dada is received in Heaven with the same love he showed us here on earth.

Dada lived more than a century here on earth, doing his part to be a reflection of heaven to those who knew him. He inspired us all through example, showing us how to live with integrity, be respectful of others, work hard, and love fully—always to the highest standards steeped in Biblical truth.

What a blessing to share Dada’s 100th year of life with my son’s first year. I feel called to teach and carry on everything Dada taught me with my son. How to work, how to love, even how to dress, have good manners, be a gentleman, how to dance, how to exercise and stay active and care for animals—Dada set an example in just about every way imaginable, and I’m so blessed that this wonderful man is part of the lineage my son shares.

First and foremost, his love for his family is an amazing example. He and Bamaw (“Miss Catheryne”)were married for 67 years. He was so devoted to her, even ‘til the end when she was in a nursing home and didn’t always know who he was. He’d go to the market for handpicked grains to make her cereal on his visits with her in the home—always such a loving husband.

When Bamaw passed away, Dada was in his 90s but knew he didn’t want to be alone. He began dating and eventually at 95 years old, he married Jane, several years his junior, and she’s been a lovely companion for this chapter of his amazing life.

Dada had been an only child and always wanted a family. When he and Bamaw learned they couldn’t have children of their own, they trusted God and adopted three daughters (Patricia Ann Laws Elkins (Don), Mary Catheryne Laws Sulser (Leon), and Christie Sue Laws Coolidge (William Parlin.)

At his 100th birthday party, Dada was surrounded by his girls, their children and 8 great grandchildren...not to mention a few hundred other friends and loved ones—the large family he’d always wanted and then some!

Our family was large, but Dada had a way of making each of us feel like the most prized person on the planet. When I'd come home from school, he'd slip me a little money and say, "now darlin’—this is comin' home money."

When I opened my business in Chattanooga, he asked to be hired on as the official greeter, giving customers a handshake at the door and doing his best to make sure they didn’t leave without a purchase. He even acknowledged the recent passing of my beloved dog Lucy and shared his memory of her puppyhood; I couldn’t believe the details he recalled.

In these precious moments, I always felt like the favorite grandchild though I know he went the extra mile for all of us. In collecting these memories from his grandchildren, I found comfort knowing that each and every one of us shared individual moments of love and comfort from our Dada.  From quiet moments at the lake house to the biggest milestones of our lives, Dada was there for us, taking time to listen, teach and support us. He imparted wisdom and guidance through good times and hard times. These kindnesses and his kind presence made him someone I looked up to and always wanted to please.

Another signature Dada characteristic? His snappy attire and impeccable manners. He presented his best, most spiffy self to the world on every occasion. Not only did he buy a brand new tux for my brother’s wedding, but he also bought a new suit and top hat for the plane ride! 

He even wanted to greet Jesus wearing a black suit, a pressed blue shirt, a tie, freshly polished shoes, and a red rose.  He constantly was reprimanded at Rotary Club for refusing to call men by their first names. He taught his daughters and granddaughters how a gentleman should treat a lady: walking on the street side, opening doors and standing when she approaches the dinner table.

Dada found it an honor to escort his girls...daughters and granddaughters...to the Tivoli for productions, taking time to discuss the shows so the outings would be educational and not just entertainment. He was the essence of class and thoughtfulness.

All of us treasure the memories of—and are continuously inspired by—Dada’s affinity for exercise and physical activity. His energy and adventurousness were nothing short of amazing. He chose to walk up and down the eight fights of stairs to his office and condo every day. He waterskied until he was 80 years old.

He'd swim every morning at the lake house, after a routine of sit-ups and push ups. Each of his girls treasured a moment for Dada to spin us on the dance floor.  You can’t help but think his commitment to staying strong and active balanced his love of salted bacon and Bloody Marys, and three-four rounds of dessert!

We grandchildren knew him as Dada, but all of Chattanooga knew him as Dr. Laws...or “Dr. Jaws!”—the first and only dentist (I think) in Chattanooga for years. He was a pioneering leader in his church. He was an innovative businessman and very involved in the community. And no matter how people came to know him, they found him to be generous and welcoming.

It’s no wonder hundreds of people turned out to celebrate his 100th birthday; his life touched so many others. When reminded of the wide respect and renown he held throughout Chattanooga, he’d simply say “oh, how nice”—a humble, unassuming response that was so typical of him.

One hundred years is a long time by earthly measures, but it’s a blink in the scope of eternity. Dr. Hiram Laws III...aka “Dr. Jaws” to locals and Dada to his grandkids...lived his 100 years with eternity in mind. As we reflect on his wonderful life, we find comfort in his favorite hymn, “Blessed Assurance,” a tune he loved and hummed nearly all his life.

“Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. O what a foretaste of glory divine. Heir of salvation, purchase of God. Born of his Spirit, washed in his blood.”

Today, Dada knows firsthand of that glory divine. May we all not only be heirs of Dada’s earthly example but of the heavenly salvation he found in Jesus’ loving, outstretched arms. Dada, we miss you here but, as you taught us, God won’t give us more than we can bear. We will always be inspired by your life and are blessedly assured that you’re now at home!

I can’t wait to one day hear those familiar words when I step into Heaven…”Hey There, How’s my girl?”

* * *

Hiram Adoniram Laws III. What a man. What a Christ!

royexum@aol.com


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