The American Red Cross prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
By Carl Manning
American Red Cross
Gatlinburg, Tennessee, December 6, 2016
Paul Meeks and Bob Wallace grew up just a few houses from one another in Memphis, Tennessee. They often played touch football together and were members of a group of similar aged neighborhood kids who were all good friends.
After high school, they went their separate ways – Paul to Memphis State University and eventually as a biology teacher and medical technician in Memphis. Bob went to college in Arkansas, to graduate school in Texas, and ended up as a university professor and freelance writer in New York before retiring and returning to his hometown.
Flash forward a half century since they last saw each other, Paul is new Red Cross volunteer helping install smoke alarms in Memphis homes, and Bob, also a Red Cross volunteer, is photographing the install campaign. Bob asked Paul to sign a photo release. Looking over Paul’s shoulder as he wrote his name, Bob was amazed. Could this be his childhood friend?
“I paused, and then asked, ‘are you the Paul Meeks who grew up on North Trezevant Street?’ Paul jerked his head up with a shocked look. Then he recognized me. It was a great reunion.” Bob said.
It was their first encounter, but wasn’t to be their last.
When wildfires swept through the Gatlinburg area, Red Cross volunteers arrived by the score. Bob is here on his 19th deployment to help with Red Cross public affairs, and Paul is part of the disaster assessment team on his very first deployment.
Paul said he enjoyed knowing that he was helping people in their recovery on this his first time out. He also shared that it is very personal, as he and his family have been coming to the Gatlinburg area for many years as tourists. “It is heart breaking to see some of the structures that I knew so well now reduced to ashes,” Paul said.
Now, two old friends cross paths on a routine basis as they both do what they can to assist with relief and recovery for the many people who are hurting as a result of the wildfires. They have found a new connection after 50 years of separation thanks to their decisions to step forward as volunteers with the American Red Cross.