GIBSON — Tony Neal, who serves Georgia Baptists in the area of Convention Financial Services, visited The Christian Index offices one day and said, “You need to do a story on Dr. Dean Watson. He is the pastor of Gibson First Baptist Church and has a great testimony; and he is such a gracious and humble man. His story is amazing.”
That is precisely the way some of The Index stories are prompted – by observant GBC missionaries who encounter some of Georgia’s many champions of the faith.
Watson’s book From Tragedy to Triumph tells the story of how he overcame paralysis and depression to become a vibrant Christian and a successful pastor.
An accident, then paralysis
Two days before Christmas 1972 Watson, who was a salesman for an insurance firm, was on a deer hunt with his boss, brother-in-law, and two 13-year-old boys. In a freakish accident one of the teenage boys shot Watson in the back of the head with a high-powered rifle.
When Watson, a native of Union Springs, AL, woke up in the hospital he realized he was totally paralyzed on the right side of his body. He could not talk, walk, or write. His left eye was damaged, but no one realized that his vision was impaired until weeks after the accident.
Watson recalled, “What a change from being a strong, healthy man who was able to care for and provide for my family to a paralytic in need of care from others. We had three daughters, ages 8, 7, and the youngest one turning 3-years-old on the day I was shot.
“My wife Linda, who had been a stay-at-home mom, had to assume full responsibility for me, our daughters, the finances, and our home. I saw God become so real to her, giving her strength, wisdom, and grace for each day.
“I grew up in a small southern town with a close-knit family, lots of fun, and occasional mischief. My father’s family was a big family of thirteen children. I actually had uncles younger than me. During my school years I played lots of baseball and basketball. At one time there were three Watson boys playing on the varsity team.
“After high school I was chosen to go off and try out for the Baltimore Orioles minor league team. God had other plans for my life, because I hurt my arm and was not able to make the team.”
‘I felt like an invalid’
Being an athlete, growing up and continuing to be an active adult made Watson’s bedridden circumstance following the accident tough to swallow. After being released from the hospital Linda had to take him to Montgomery five days a week for 30 months. All in all Watson was on total disability for nine years.
While at the rehabilitation center, depression set in. “I felt like an invalid,” Watson recounted, “I wanted to be constructive. I felt like everyone was looking at me. I knew if I prayed I would find an answer. I prayed and God gave me the ability to paint.”
He also received inspiration from another person at the center. “Kathy Waltershield was paralyzed from the neck down,” Watson noted. “I found out she could paint. I knew if she could paint with both hands paralyzed, I could learn to paint with my left hand.”
Watson exclaimed, “Also during that time God was mightily at work in my heart and I was dealing with the call to preach the Gospel. I was stubborn and I had chosen to go my own way and was actually out of fellowship with the Lord when my accident happened. However, God got my attention and I surrendered to His call in June of 1976.
“We stepped out on faith in June of 1978 and I enrolled in Florida Bible College (now the Baptist College of Florida). I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1982. I continued my education, but while I was pastor of Roaring Fork Baptist Church in Gatlinburg, TN, chalk art came into my life.
“While attending a retreat at The Cove (Billy Graham’s Retreat Center in Ashville, NC) I saw a chalk artist for the first time. God spoke to my heart and revealed to me that He could use that gift to enhance my own ministry. With the help of people like Doad and Francis Brown I began to train myself in chalk art. I had always been right handed before, but I was becoming increasingly proficient with my left hand.”
Watson uses chalk art to illustrate his sermons at Gibson First Baptist and wherever he has a chance to minister.
Serving Christ together
Dean and Linda have been married for over 51 years. Dean explained, “I asked Jesus into my heart when I was 17-years-old. After trying out with the Orioles baseball team I returned to my home in Alabama. Shortly thereafter I went to my pastor, Gary Lightfoot, and we got down on our knees on his front porch and we prayed for God to bring a Christian young lady into my life.
“Two weeks later I met Linda Hartley at a youth rally. I knew that night that one day she would be my wife. She has been my encourager and supported me in all areas of my life. I almost lost her in 2009 due to a serious heart condition that developed.”
Today the Watsons are rejoicing that their three daughters and their families are all serving Christ. Dean added, “We also have nine grandchildren; and our three sons-in-law who are leading their families to love Jesus.
The Watsons have claimed the promise of Romans 8:28 and rejoice that more than once they have seen tragedy turn into triumph.
“I knew if I prayed I would find an answer. I prayed and God gave me the ability