Richard Hyatt

Prayer for the lawman

It’s hard to know what to call Jim Wetherington.

In the years we’ve known each other, I’ve called him officer, chief, commissioner and mayor. Now I just call him friend.

And as a friend, I was grateful for some news he delivered last week. It had nothing to do with police, prisons or politics. It was about faith.

Jim still looks like he could rumble down a highway on a Harley but recently he hadn’t felt good so he called his doctor.

Tests were run, and the results weren’t good. A cardiologist found a blockage in his heart, and because of where it was putting in a stent was out of the question.

Jim wanted a second opinion, but a heart doctor at Emory University agreed with the first diagnosis, leaving Jim with nothing to do but squirm.

Mike Helms, a retired dentist, had an old friend at UAB so Jim’s medical records were sent to Birmingham. Only then did they find that Mike’s friend no longer did surgery. Jim was bewildered until UAB referred him to another specialist who agreed to look into the case.

Jim is usually unflappable. Years of fighting crime will do that to you. So does a lifetime of just being Jim. But this time he was scared.

One Wednesday night at the First Baptist Church people at dinner could tell he was shaken. They tried to reassure him and comfort him.

He was added to everyone’s prayer list, and last week he was on everyone’s mind. In the waiting room Tuesday, Jim was nervous.

Shirley Wetherington was calm. “Don’t worry, Jim,” his wife said. “Everything’s all right. Too many people have been praying.”

Jim prepared a long list of questions but he didn’t ask one of them. The doctor did all the talking. He explained what he was going to do and said the procedure had a 99 percent success rate. Surgery comes in a few weeks.

This past Wednesday, Jim was back at church. The Rev. Jimmy Elder could have delivered the news but he deferred to Jim.

Fighting uncharacteristic tears, Jim Wetherington managed to share the results. Fear had turned to hope.

And because of prayer, the old lawman is standing tall.

Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at