Graduates glean insight from Latimer
By DONNA RYDER
In all things, put God first.
Bill Latimer is living proof that putting God first has its dividends.
The Union City businessman, who was the guest speaker at the recent Adult Obion County Leadership graduation, explained he was raised in a single-parent home after his father, Jiggs Latimer, volunteered for the Navy in 1943 and drowned during his service in 1944.
That left then-6-year-old Latimer to grow up in a family with two women — his mother, Frances, and sister, Jenny — which he said “wasn’t too bad.”
He attended the former Central Elementary School and remembers when he moved up into the three-story high school across the street during seventh grade and being told not to slide down the tube from the top floor unless there was a fire. He said every month two or three children would do so and get paddled.
He said a new “first class” high school was built and most children would either walk or ride their bikes to school. He was among the first class which completed a full four years at that school. While there, he played football and baseball.
The late Robert Kirkland of Union City was in his graduating class and they roomed together their freshman year at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville.
Following college, Latimer said Jack Hudgens asked him to work at Waterfield Grain, which he said was the best decision he made because Hudgens was “a great teacher, mentor and Christian man.” A short time later, Hudgens made the decision to go into ministry and asked Latimer to buy the business. Latimer, who said he had no money at the time, ended up buying the business on a note.
Ten years later, he said a farmer came to his office and asked him, “What is the purpose of your life? What is the most important thing in your life?” The farmer didn’t want an answer at that point; he wanted Latimer to think about it.
Latimer said at that time in his life, he had three children, was working 60-80 hours a week to save money to send them to college, was active in his church, was on the school board and had a busy life.
His conclusion was he wanted to seek and do the will of God. So, at the age of 55, he sold the business, retired and started selling commodities.
Latimer told the Adult Leadership graduates that, although they may not realize it, they have won the lottery — first, because they live in the United States and, second, because they live and work in Union City and Obion County.
“You have so much to be thankful for,” he said, adding he won the lottery a third time when he met and married his wife of 33 years, Carol.
He said God gives everyone a talent they should use to best serve others. He said God gives some people the talent to make money, while others He may give the talent to teach, be a good attorney or coach.
“What do you have that you can use to help others,” he asked.
Some time around his early retirement, Latimer said he started reading and praying every day. Among the books he read was “The Prayer of Jabez: Breaking Through to the Blessed Life” by Bruce Wilkinson.
He said once he completely focused on God, he started making more money than he ever did before, which gave him more to do the will of God.
Among the projects the Latimers have funded are the Obion County Public Library, which he said is the best public library in the state that was privately funded; the University of Tennessee Dental School; and the new STEM building at UT Martin.
He said they believe education is the key to getting people out of poverty and, when approached about joining the late Kathleen Elam fund a new public library, they decided to help but could find no one else willing to give. So the Latimers sold all their Mississippi Chemical Co. stock to fund the effort. Mrs. Elam donated $1 million, while the Latimers covered the remainder of the more than $5 million project.
“After we did that, God really blessed us,” he said, adding, “You cannot outgive God. … God blessed me more between the ages of 67 and 72 than all the rest of my years working.”
Latimer actively sought to locate a dental school here after learning UT would be building teaching centers across the state. He offered to not only provide the building and equipment to the university’s specifications, he also agreed to give the school $50,000 a year for coming to Union City. He said many people in the lower economic level have never been to the dentist because they can’t afford it. The center makes it possible for the work to be done by senior dental students at a low cost of $10 or less per visit. He said the center is a win for the person who can have work done which they can afford, a win for the employer who does not have an employee out sick with dental issues and a win for the dental students who have someone to practice on.
The third project he discussed was the STEM building. He said it came about at a time when the Tennessee Legislature had lowered the required match for UTM to build a new building from 25 to 10 percent. But, it was also at a time when UTM was on probation for its accreditation. So Latimer told then-chancellor Dr. Bob Smith that he would cover the match for a new STEM building because the chancellor did not have time to solve the accreditation problem and raise funds.
The Latimers and their foundation regularly have requests for donations. One thing that makes it easier for the foundation to decide who gets funding is a statement placed in the trust documents — that the money be given to “spread the gospel of Jesus.” Among those receiving donations are Young Life, Fellowship of Christian Athletes and missionaries who live with the people they are serving. Latimer said they do personally give to other places, too.
“I have been blessed much more than I should have been or expected,” Latimer said, adding he prays every night for wisdom.
He told the young parents in the audience the most important things they can do for their children are to teach them about “God, faith and Jesus Christ” and to instill self-esteem in them. He said people who have good self-esteem know they don’t have to do what everybody else does.
Following a question-and-answer session with Latimer, class member Lauren Kendall recapped the resource fair the class held as its senior project. Tyson provided 300 chickens to be cooked and served, with 220 to 240 people fed, and 35 organizations and businesses provided resources.
Graduates received their plaques to conclude the event.