by Billy Beasley
It was a sunny afternoon, three days before Christmas. Jeff Garrison, Carl Mason, and I stood together at the cemetery. Jeff had led the service for our friend Nicky Pipkin. Carl and I served as Pallbearers. The four of us attended Bradley Creek Elementary School a half century earlier. Nicky had fought cancer valiantly, but on the week, he turned sixty-two years of age, he left us all way too soon.
Jeff pointed off in the distance and smiled. “The school is just over there.” It was a surreal moment among many. We were all friends as kids but we lost our connection with each other at times over the years. I remained here in the Wilmington area, while the three of them had careers that took them elsewhere.
Nicky grew up within a half of mile of me. We went to school together and played at each other’s homes. He was the smartest kid in our class. I can’t recall all the details but I do remember the buzz when he as a second grader made it to the final round of the spelling bee for our entire school grades, which went up as high as sixth graders. He was such a kind and humble boy that I would be willing to wager that every class mate was pulling for him.
He never promoted himself as intelligent. I can never recall a time when he looked down upon anyone. He was always humble, kind, thoughtful of others.
We lost touch after busing forced us to attend different schools but it was more than that. Nicky stayed grounded, while I ventured down a reckless path. He accepted Jesus as a teenager and I don’t know that he ever wavered from that first moment of faith.
He went on to become a renowned heart surgeon. I read each comment that was written on his obituary. Many people said he saved a family member’s life.
I joined the Facebook craze on the first day of the year in 2010. It was not long after that when I received a message, “Billy Beasley, is that you?” It seems from that moment we picked right back up on our friendship. He came home often and we got together almost every time.
Jeff shared during the funeral that Nicky was not Dr. Pipkin or Nicky M.D. He was just Nicky. That was so true and I found the same humble boy inside the man he was all these years later. It did not surprise me.
It was not long after our friendship began anew that I decided it was time to stop trying to live with one foot in the kingdom and one foot in the world. I could not have had a better Christian friend to help me with this journey, though Nicky always said, “I don’t think I did anything, or I don’t deserve any credit.” He always downplayed his significance.
During his battle with cancer I tried to keep him positive and I was always praying for him. He spoke words to me, which I will never forget. “Billy, you are an encourager and I believe that to be the greatest of the spiritual gifts.”
I knew encouragement was important but I never looked at it as a spiritual gift and then to view it as the greatest? But I believe what my friend stated was true. I wrote this once again in last month’s column with a mention of him. He left social media years ago, so I emailed my columns to him each month. He sent me the following text after my last column.
Thanks for the (undeserved) acknowledgement once again! See…bet you thought I didn’t read them all the way through.
I have been reading through our texts often and maybe one day I will be able to do it without tears. It took me a moment to understand one that he sent last year on January 9. It read. Happy Release Day.
January 9, was the day my second novel released, The Preacher’s Letter. Knowing the thoughtful man, he was, I bet you he had written this date down as a reminder to reach out on that special day. Nicky was thrilled to see me have a dream come through twice. He bought multiple copies for family and friends but that was not enough. He asked, “Which way should I buy them to do you the most good?” One text in which I wrote, I will just keep plugging along, hoping for that one supernatural break that opens the doors that I so often dream of. And I will know that it was God.
His response. I will dream it with you then.
Nicky was not one to complain about his fate and I felt privileged that during his weaker moments he would share how weary he was of being tired and feeling bad. How sad he was to be so sick. That returning home to Wrightsville Beach, the beach he loved, was not going to be the way he often dreamed it would be.
During our times over breakfast or lunch he would share that he really did not want to talk about his illness. He wanted our time together to be special. It always was, even when I would pry the latest health updates from him. I would tell him that I needed to know so I would know what to pray for. That would release that magical smile that he possessed and he would share the latest.
His first bout with cancer ended with him having a clean and clear scan. He called me the day of the results and I did not realize that I was holding my breath until he said, “The scan is clear.” Sadly, the cancer returned, never to depart his body again on this side of the veil.
I am not a man ashamed of tears but at funerals I manage to keep it together and I did so until after we said our final good byes to Nicky at the cemetery. Julie and I were leaving, when two ladies approached, Teresa McDonald and Katie Davis. They had come from Arkansas, where Nicky and his wife, Nancy Jo last lived, and where Nicky worked until late last summer. They worked with Nicky.
“Are you Billy?” Teresa asked.
“He talked about you all the time. And he was always smiling when he did.”
I will always treasure that memory.
Remember earlier about Nicky receiving credit for saving lives? They shared that he would point to the rest of them and say it was a team effort. They said somewhat jokingly how he had ruined them from working for other doctors.
I will confess that I weary of the word legacy. But when I think of my friend Nicky and that word, well it is not about his medical career, however stellar it was. It is more on a personal level. Nicky made me a better man, a better Christian. He would have downplayed this point but I know it to be an absolute fact. How many people can you say that about? I am certain that I am not the only one that feels this way about Nicky, and in fact, Jeff shared with me what our friend Carl said to him. “Nicky was always that guy that just made you want to be better.”
We looked forward to the time when Nancy Jo and he could return home because we could rekindle our friendship even more. Sadly, we must wait till my time comes to pass through that veil. I requested something from God the other day. You may find it silly. I told God that Nicky would be as humble in Heaven as he was here on earth and that when the time comes for me to leave this world. Nicky would defer to others and remain in the back, allowing the rest to greet me first. I said, “God, please tell him that his friend wants him up at the front when I walk through the gate to eternal life.”
In one of our last texts. I shared with him and how he had made me better.
I think the most I may have done is simply to help you see how good you are in many ways.
I miss you my wonderful, humble friend. I will treasure our memories and I will remember the importance of encouraging others, as you so encouraged me. But I am thankful that you are home. You no longer are in pain.
I wonder what your magnificent smile looks like in Heaven.
I can only imagine.
I love you NLP.
About the Author
Billy Beasley resides in Carolina Beach, NC with his wife Julie and their Australian Cattle Dog, Teke. They are active members of Lifepoint Church in Wilmington, NC.
Billy is the author of The River Hideaway- a traditionally published work of faith based fiction and the newly published novel, The Preacher's Letter. He shares two simple beliefs with his favorite character in this novel. Faith in God and a conviction that ‘Hearts have no color’.
You can read Billy’s “Sunday Inspiration” column on the 2nd Sunday each month here at Pandora’s Box Gazette.