Dec. 3, 2006
By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
It doesn't matter who's driving, they all wave at the man behind the big, red sign - the man they call Mr. Stop.
His name is Matthew Wilson, and he sits in a tollbooth-sized box each weekday, guarding the main entrance at Temple High School. He's done so for 25 years.
Drivers intending to park in the high school lot wait for his nod of approval. And when the afternoon bells ring, the traffic jams a bit because all the students, teachers, coaches and visitors won't turn to go home until they wish Mr. Stop a good evening.
'The all know me,' he said, grinning. 'I like my job here, and I like the people I've come into contact with. Never have been disrespected.'
He said he tries to greet each face within the steady stream of motorists, entering and leaving.
'I don't know all their names all the time, but I just keep on talking and smiling,' Wilson said. 'You might not think it makes a difference, but it does.'
The security guard shared a story about a former Temple High School student who, during her driving years at the school, never reciprocated a wave, much less a smile.
'But when that little girl graduated, she came back to apologize,' Wilson said. 'She thanked me for waving at her everyday. She said it gave her something nice to look forward to. She just never had what it took to wave back.'
Mr. Stop, a man with 87 years of life behind him, said he understood, and he was reminded, again, of how simple things can make big differences.
'The young ones are my pride and joy,' Wilson said. 'Kids today need confidence and love. And I want to make sure they have someone to talk to, somebody who cares.'
He's got no immediate plans of retiring his guarding post, but he admits he does look forward to it a bit.
'I imagine I'll hold on for another three years or so,' Wilson said. 'Ninety seems like a good age to call it quits. A good age to start sitting on the porch all day.'
A smile as big as any Santa's spread across the guard's face as he shared his not-so-secret plan.
His snow-colored whiskers, sprinkled with a few tufts black as coal, were the only telltale signs of his age. Contradicting his near-nonagenarian status, his steps from this car to that car were spry.
The guard, however, said his joints felt every one of his steps and every one of his years.
'Some say age is just a number,' Wilson said. 'To them, I say, 'Wait until you're 87,' and then we'll discuss it.'
But life for Mr. Stop doesn't stop at the parking lot.
Matthew Wilson is a man of God, a husband of 46 years to wife Joan and a war veteran. The man has two children, four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
He is a retired U.S. Army man with 32 years of service as mess sergeant behind him. As 'Chief Cook,' he catered to the bellies of thousands of men in every war since World War II until he retired his pots and pans and Fort Hood in the early 1970s.
'I liked my time in the Army. Combat was scary, but I appreciated the chance to serve,' Wilson said. 'I got to go to a lot of places I never would have seen otherwise.'
One of his biggest challenges as mess sergeant was appeasing the Army generals and their wives.
'At one point, my sole responsibility was to cook dinner for 14 or 15 generals. And let me tell you, your first mistake was your last,' Wilson said, remembering the uncalled for stress of that situation. 'And their wives. They had to be happy.'
Wilson rolled his eyes as he recounted that pet peeve, but he said he did manage to take a lesson out of the high-drama ordeal.
'You give what you can,' Wilson said. 'Sometimes what you have to give is not enough. And that is okay in God's eyes, as long as you've given what you can.'
He said he's always believed in Christian theology, but it wasn't until two weeks prior to his 70th birthday when he said he got the Lord's call for him to lead the congregation at Grant Chapel Baptist Church in Troy, the area's only predominantly black church.
'When the Lord calls you to preach, you have to. There's no thinking about it,' Wilson said. 'It was something I had to do.'
When his wife objected to his calling, Wilson said he repeated that vague explanation over and over again until she accepted his choice.
'I didn't understand why I was called to preach,' Wilson said. 'I just knew I had to. I had a message to share.'
The message was meant to help people's lives, and Wilson said he felt an urgent need to share it.
'God wants you to be obedient and do what God has asked,' Wilson said. 'If we put our trust in God, then we'll have no problems. The good days will outweigh the bad days.'
The energetic, committed speaker leads a congregation that has outgrown its meeting place.
More than 100 people now regularly attend Grant Chapel Baptist Church. They meet in the church's original building on the outskirts of Troy, but several of the believers must stand, for the structure can only accommodate 80 people comfortably. Construction on a new church building at 200 North St. in Troy will start Jan. 8.
Having preached this message for close to 12 years now, Wilson said he hasn't tired of it one bit because of the truth the statement carries for him and his congregation.
'I enjoy preaching,' Wilson said. 'But more than that, I like helping people, however I can.'