My heart is sad today because I will no longer have my day brightened by a white-haired gentleman, wearing a blue vest with a big gold asterisk on the back, cracking a joke or giving me one of his probably thousands of special greetings when I walk through the entrance of Walmart.

For the past 20-plus years, probably tens of thousands of shoppers have been greeted by Auther Blaylock. He was more than just a greeter; he was the face of the store. He was "Mr. Walmart." If Sam Walton had personally met Auther, he would no doubt be delighted to hang that title on him.

Nobody could walk into the store with a heavy heart, or overwhelmed by the stress of the day and not leave with a smile after Auther did his number on them. I don't recall him always wearing a big wide smile -- but the joy was reflected in his face. He had what I would describe as a playfully mischievous look as he sized up shoppers who walked through the door and thinking about the greeting they needed at that moment. He always had a quip, or a little "funny" to impart to everyone. I sometimes wondered if he rehearsed a repertoire of comments before he came to work, or if they just rolled off his tongue impromptu. The answer is simple -- comments from the heart are probably seldom rehearsed. Auther always had a remark -- a happy remark -- an encouraging remark for everyone who entered - and they obviously came from his heart.

But greeting wasn't his only calling. It was not uncommon to see him out in the parking lot moving stray shopping carts out of the aisles -- or else lending personal assistance to shoppers.

And there was always time in his schedule to bend down and give special attention to a little child. Someone once remarked that the measure of a man's greatness hinges on how he treat little children. Auther will go down in Waxahachie history as one who achieved greatness.

His image was so entrenched into Walmart, it just didn't seem natural to see his famous face anywhere else in town. We were always taken aback when we saw him and Mrs. Joyce after church on Sunday at Tamolly's, dressed in their Sunday best. Although it never registered on his face, I'm sure he became weary of people walking up to him someplace else in town and exclaiming, "You're not supposed to be here!"

Auther didn't have to proclaim his relationship with the Lord -- it was readily recognized by anyone who was likewise a Christ follower.

The Holy Spirit confers ministry gifts to all believers. Some are gifted with administration, teaching, giving, compassion, faith, and so on. One didn't have to interact with Auther but a moment to realize he had the gift of encouragement. He was a "Barnabas" among us ("Son of Encouragement" - Acts 4:36) If you were downtrodden, Auther had this knack for lifting you up -- with only a few words.

When God calls me home to Heaven one day, It will not surprise me in the least if the first person to greet me there will be Auther. Who knows? He may be wearing that blue vest with a big gold asterisk.

Till we meet again, dear friend.


Paul Gauntt currently serves as the pastor of First Baptist Church of Palmer.