Most people are willing to remind you of what can’t be done. There will be a few God gives you that will tell you otherwise. Billy Gilmer was a man God brought into my life to tell me otherwise.
Not long after our church had made a difficult decision to relocate, Mr. Gilmer invited me to “ride around” with him in his truck. He said he wanted to, “show me some things.” He failed. Mr. Gilmer showed me everything. We surveyed the entire NE section of Jefferson County, Alabama in a Ford. As we did so Mr. Gilmer told me the history behind every piece of property, every development, and every family in the area over the last 50 years. You may not have known Billy Gilmer, but if you lived in Birmingham anytime since 1950 I would be willing to bet that Billy Gilmer knew something about you. While we drove down Carson Road; Mr. Gilmer told me about Mr. Carson. To make a long story short, Mr. Carson had done for Billy 50 years ago what Billy was doing for me that day. Mr. Carson was part of Mr. Gilmer’s “otherwise.”
The best that I can figure out is that Mr. Gilmer didn’t have a job doing anything in particular. Instead, he did everything and he did it well. Mr. Gilmer was what I call a “tinker” man. He bought, sold, and repaired anything that could be bought and sold. In between buying and selling what he had, he would find ways to make money with what he had, while he had it. He could take any piece of equipment and make it work. He took things people had lost vision for and he turned it into otherwise.
Billy could design and build almost anything. He shared with me mental catalogs of pieces and parts he had designed to make the world work better. Even in the last few years he had been working on some sort of contraption that would turn air or water or perhaps it was any gas station soda (I can’t exactly remember) into hydrogen fuel. Ms. Mary, his wife, calls it a bomb. Billy called it otherwise. Mr. Gilmer told me about airplane wings, gasoline, hydrogen, cars, and tax maps. Sometimes when Billy told me about stuff I shook my head like a knew what he was talking about, but I didn’t. I would listen to what he said, because it inspired me. For him anything was possible if you’re just willing to tinker with it. Billy’s stories were mostly about how he had found yet another way to do otherwise.
Billy bought and sold property; acres and acres of it. In places where I saw a field, Billy saw a way to piece properties together make it an industrial airport. He always saw otherwise. Where I saw a dusty lot near a drainage ditch, Billy saw a Wal-Mart. Mr. Gilmer would have had his Wal-Mart had it not been for the snail darter and the environmentalist. I didn’t know God had created such an animal as the snail darter until I met Billy Gilmer. I do not know much about them now, but I can tell you this. Environmentalist think snail darters are important. Billy Gilmer thought otherwise.
At a critical time in my life when many people were telling me what could not be done, Billy Gilmer took the time to “ride me around” and teach me otherwise. While it is true I did not understand half of the things he talked about, I understood exactly what he was saying. People have the liberty to say what they want to say, but you have the freedom to think otherwise. Vision is not accomplished with permission. Vision is accomplished piece by piece. Vision is not a miraculous moment in time, it is methodically tinkering all the time.
Billy Gilmer passed away yesterday. I know that today in Alabama the stories of Billy Gilmer are being shared and that there are smiles chasing tears. If you knew Billy, you know he contributed to who you are. I know he made a great investment in me. Billy Gilmer taught me to tinker, piece things together, and think otherwise. For him I will be forever grateful.