By Gelene Simpson
Corsicana Daily Sun
Did you think I would let this week go by without writing about George Washington? Not a chance!
I like people who try to do their duty no matter what happens, people who “don’t give up the ship” or look for excuses by saying, “It can’t be done.” And you and I both know that Washington fits this pattern better than just about any other leader in our history.
Washington seemed to know just what to say and do when the proper time came. Let me cite an example of Washington’s sense of humor and skill as an encourager, especially of young people. A certain young man, about 18 years of age, named Joseph White, was an assistant adjutant of the regiment of artillery during the Revolution. He was sent to General Washington to get orders and was supposed to see the general in person.
As luck would have it, when he arrived at Washington’s quarters, the aid-de-camp didn’t want to admit him. But Washington, who was just up the stairs, called out, “Tell the young man to walk up.” Of course the young man did, and was then asked by the General what officer he was. When he told his rank, Washington said, ‘You are very young to do that duty.’ White replied that he ‘was young but was growing older every day.’ At this reply, Washington turned to his wife Martha, who was also present, and they both smiled. Great leaders are not so full of themselves that they cannot enjoy nurturing the young.
It has been said that Washington inherited his ‘strong constitution and powers of endurances’ from his mother. Yet even with these characteristics, his survival to the age of 67 is really a marvel. When he was 19, he made a trip to Barbados Island as a companion to his brother Lawrence, who was also his guardian at the time. Lawrence had tuberculosis and had hoped to be relieved of his bout with tuberculosis by the more pleasant climate. However, instead, George contracted small pox. His recuperation lasted long afterward, and it has been believed that the artist Gilbert Stuart had to touch up the pock marks in the General’s face in the portrait we are so familiar with because Washington carried the marks the rest of this life.
It seemed that Washington was an easy target for all the many diseases we today have vaccinations to prevent or at least mitigate. We are told that in his youth, he suffered at least 10 attacks of serious illnesses which were actually life-threatening. As a surveyor at age 17, he had to practice his profession in Virginia, which was swampy. And of course he was bitten by mosquitos carrying malaria. During the rest of his life, he suffered repeated bouts of this fever.
When he was caring for his brother Lawrence, he was exposed to tuberculosis. And since he had already been weakened by smallpox, his system was hard pressed to recover from acute pleurisy even after two years. At that time, however, he joined the military and in 1753 became a “major in the Virginia militia.” Then when he returned from the defeat of a military expedition against the French at Fort Duquesne, he immediately suffered another severe attack of malaria.
During his many periods of illness, Washington had learned patience and self-control. It is not unreasonable to believe that “his courage and unyielding determination were also conditioned by his medical history.” He faced his demise with the same steadfastness with which he had faced all the conflicts of life. In fact, he told his physician Dr. Craik, ‘Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go.’
Truly Washington was an inspiration in his life and in his death. He was a true leader.
(Dedicated to James Blair Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution)
Facts from “The Treasury of American Heritage,” ed. Oliver Jensen et al, 1960.
Gelene Simpson is a Daily Sun columnist. Her column appears on Tuesdays. Want to “Soundoff” on this column? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org