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‘Guardian angel,’ community join to give man home

Allen G. Breed
Associated Press

Lexington, N.C. – — She’d warned Scotty Reynolds to stay away from people like this, but “Mr. I Don’t Listen” ignored her, as usual. Now, here he sat, moaning about how someone he’d taken in had trashed his apartment and stolen his computer.

Gayle Whitehead had been watching out for the mentally disabled man for 30 years. Now, sick with cancer, she decided it was time for a “come-to-Jesus meeting.”

“When I die, what are you going to do?” Whitehead asked the man-child before her.

The argument got so heated that the police were called in to take Reynolds home — “for his protection. And mine, too,” Whitehead said.

When he’d had a chance to cool down, Reynolds realized that Whitehead was right.

Swinging his head rhythmically from side to side, Scotty Reynolds sings or talks to himself as he walks the streets of this former textile and furniture manufacturing hub. With his computer bag and bow tie, Reynolds is about as much a fixture in Lexington as barbecue.

“You’re going to find very few people in Lexington that say, ‘Nah, I’ve never seen that guy,’” says local contractor Marc Lamoureax. “Everybody knows Scotty.”

He grew up here, the product of a troubled home. The family was poor. When Scotty was 10, his mother told her only child there was no money for Christmas presents that year. Scotty poured out his heart in a letter to Santa; the mail carrier read the letter and shared it with Gayle Whitehead.

Scotty awoke Christmas morning to find a trove beneath the tree: A Teddy bear, a drum kit, a set of encyclopedias, a keyboard, some new clothes. When he asked his mother who had brought them, she replied: “Your old guardian angel.”

Turns out, Whitehead already knew the family. As a social worker, she had visited the home. Scotty’s father was abusive to both his wife and son, and authorities briefly removed the child.

The boy, diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic, would mimic his father’s behavior — when he was 14, he punched his mother. She left.

Once again, Whitehead came to his rescue. She secured a spot for Scotty in a group home 20 miles away.

The day he turned 18, he packed his bags and walked back to Lexington — to the one person he could always count on.

Gayle and Gary Whitehead had their hands full. But after some soul searching, she agreed to assume power of attorney for Reynolds.

Now 56, Whitehead is executive director of Crisis Ministry of Davidson County, in charge of the county’s only homeless shelter, a food and clothing bank, and a program to help the disabled manage their needs.

She assured him that her successor at Crisis Ministry would take care of him, but Reynolds couldn’t help thinking the worst.

That’s when he hatched the idea of finding a home of his own.

After some false starts, they found a 1,145-square-foot bungalow. The most Reynolds could reasonably afford to pay was $8,000. To his amazement, the owners accepted his offer.

Now, they had to secure financing. Reynolds made the rounds of every bank in town, but even the one where he’d done his business for 20 years turned him down. Too risky, they told him.

Then someone suggested he go see Kent Beck at Industrial Federal.

The assistant vice president and loan officer had known Gayle and Gary Whitehead for a quarter century. When Gayle Whitehead agreed to co-sign the loan, Beck agreed to help Reynolds become a homeowner.

But like most things with Scotty, the house was a bit more of a project than Whitehead had anticipated.

Thieves had stripped the house of its copper plumbing and wiring, and the heating system was gone. Vandals had broken out nearly every window.

Lamoureaux, the contractor, was a year ahead of Scotty at Lexington High School. When he learned of the situation, he volunteered himself and his crew.

As word spread, others stepped forward to pitch in.

Bank employees and others contributed money and household items. On a recent rainy Saturday, about a dozen students and staff members from the community college scraped, painted, ripped up carpet and hauled away debris.

He has already decided to leave the house to Crisis Ministry in his will. It’s his way of paying Whitehead back.