When I was a young boy, I used to eagerly read the “My Most Unforgettable Character” story each month in the Reader’s Digest. I read the Reader’s Digest from cover to cover, but I always looked forward to reading “My Most Unforgettable Character.” In real life, my most unforgettable character is Leroy Borton.
Leroy spent many years in Mena, Arkansas and was a big part of our lives. He spent most of his time while he was in Mena at our shop. He loved to be involved with cars. In the days before the internet, Leroy was the internet for many of us in the car business. He had a little black book of contact information for most of the salvage yards in the Tennessee, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas area. He would find, order and pick up parts for me, my Dad, my Uncle Delbert, and many other friends from the Mena area. He knew just about anyone who was in the car business in Mena and offered his services to anyone. Many days I saw him sit in my shop and spend the entire day on the phone with salvage yards hunting parts.
For the past few weeks, whenever someone who knew Leroy would come to the shop, we would remember Leroy fondly, and everyone had a few stories to tell about him. Dale Moll was one of the good friends the Leroy made in Mena. While Dale and I were reminiscing, he told me the story of the first time he met Leroy. Dale had a body shop in Mena and rebuilt a lot of wrecks. He had just purchased a car in Dallas and asked my Dad if he knew anyone who would be willing to haul the car to Mena. My Dad said that he had a cousin who would probably be able to get the car. Dale talked to Leroy on the phone and made the arrangements for him to pick up the car. When Leroy pulled up in front of Dale’s shop with the car, before Dale noticed that someone was there, Leroy was out of his car and unloading Dale’s car off the trailer. Dale had no idea that Leroy was in a wheelchair when he had hired him to pick up the car. It was a big surprise to see a man in a wheelchair unloading the trailer. Dale went outside and asked Leroy if he needed help getting the car off the trailer. Leroy answered matter of factly, “no, I’ve got it.”
Dale had lots of stories to tell. He and Leroy became good friends, and Leroy spent a lot of time in Dale’s home. One of Dale’s favorite stories was about the time that Leroy was driving a Mazda RX-7 cross-country to deliver it to California. As he was driving across Arizona, the road was straight, and you could see for miles. The was no traffic, and Leroy liked to drive fast. He had the cruise control set at 110 mph. Leroy never saw the cop, but the cop saw him and pulled him over for speeding. When Leroy handed the cop his driver’s license, the cop noticed that the license was for hand controls only. He asked Leroy about it, and Leroy showed him the sawed-off shovel handle that he used to press the pedals. The cop just shook his head and told him to slow it down a bit and let him go on his way.
Not all patrolmen were as understanding. For several years whenever Leroy was driving between Hot Springs and Little Rock he avoided Highway 70 and drove 20 miles out of his way to avoid that section of highway. He had a couple of encounters with a hard line patrolman who had no mercy for the fact that Leroy drove without hand controls. The last time he stopped Leroy, the cop wasn’t going to let Leroy leave because he didn’t have hand controls. As Leroy politely conversed about the situation with the cop, (I wasn’t there, but I’m sure Leroy was very polite) the cop said, “I should just take you to jail.” Leroy answered, “why don’t you just do that. I’ve got nothing I have to do, and I could use a place to stay and three meals a day.” When the cop couldn’t get ahold of anyone to impound Leroy’s car, he let him go but said, “if I ever catch you again I will send you to jail.” Leroy must have believed him because for several years he would not drive on that stretch of road.
Another mutual friend, Bob Baker, remembered the time that his daughter was born. Bob and his wife Judy brought their new baby daughter to our house for a visit. Leroy was there visiting at the time. We all made over the baby and commented how cute she was. Leroy wanted his picture taken with Judy and the baby. He had Judy sit on his lap in the wheelchair holding the baby. When the picture was taken, Leroy said with a wry smile, “I want a copy of that picture to send to my ex-wife.”
As I sit at my computer writing, I can see a Governor Winthrop Desk in the corner of the living room. That desk will always be a reminder to me of Leroy’s thoughtfulness and generosity. When Leroy was in Mena, he spent a lot of time in our home. He loved to come over for a meal and visit with us. During one of the visits, my wife Gina was talking with him about the desk she was saving up to buy. She wanted a special kind of desk called a Governor Winthrop Desk. The next time that he came over Leroy asked Gina, “have you found the desk that you want?” Gina said that a furniture store in town had one that she liked. “I would like to buy it for you, “Leroy said. When Gina protested, Leroy said, “You have fed me many times, and I made good money on the car that Richie just built for me. I want to do it.” That desk will always be a reminder to me of the kind of person that Leroy was.
Whenever things are a bit tough and aren’t going the way I would like them to, I always think about Leroy and how he handled the challenges that life gave him. His optimism and cheerfulness in the face of very difficult situations impressed me. His determination to do things for himself and not be a burden to others was evident to anyone who knew him. I’m sure that I am not the only person who counts Leroy as their most unforgettable character.