Columbia VA Health Care System
February 2, 2017
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Date: February 2, 2017
Release Number: 201702-01-02
Dorn VAMC mail clerk delivers more than just letters
by Jennifer Scales / Dorn VAMC Public Affairs
COLUMBIA, S.C. --Many have ‘heard’ him, before they saw him.
Paul Whitaker, a William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA mail clerk delivers, picks up, sorts, and does other mail room and publications duties with whatever religious song is laid on his heart. And these songs can be like healing medicine for many of the Veterans and staff within the space of Dorn VAMC.
“A lot of times, the patients need to hear the song that he sings,” Bobbie Knowles, a scheduler in the Radiology Department said. “They [patients] may be upset from the long wait times, and Paul comes along a song that will not only lift them up, but me also. God sends him in right on time with the song that needed to be sung for them and me.”
Whitaker says that you never know what a person might be going through. For some of his 60 years, Whitaker acknowledges trying times that he has experienced.
He begins by relating that being a South Carolina native, he is one of five children of the late Rev. and Mrs. J. R. Whitaker. His parents instilled in all of them to acknowledge their respective talents. In addition to singing, Whitaker had a keen sense of solving mathematical equations, poetry and drawing.
As a first Tenor, he has been a part of the South Carolina All-State music championships.
After graduation from C.A. Johnson High School, he then went on to receive a Bachelor of Science in Business Law and Mathematical Statistics from the University of South Carolina from 1975-1979. While at USC, he was one of the star athletes in football, basketball, and track.
He put his degree to use as the night school coordinator at Eau Claire High School, but then decided to join the U. S. Army.
Military assigned him to such positions as finance specialist and air assault instructor at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Ind.; Fort Richardson, Alaska; Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Knox, K.Y.; Fort Meade, Md.; Fort Jackson, S.C.; and Korea.
“While serving in the military, I continued to use my gifts and perfect my talents,” Whitaker said.
But Whitaker admits to taking a downward spiral while hanging out with the wrong type of people during his time in the military. Though he did get out in time with an honorable discharge, he came out a changed man.
“I had spent more than $18,000 in less than six months in a substance that was totally abusive to my mind, body, and spirit,” Whitaker admits. “I had lost so much weight that I had become unrecognizable.
During his addiction, Whitaker isolated his family which included his children Paul, Jr. and Candice, his brothers, sisters, wife, in-laws, friends, and others. Nothing mattered but the drug. “I became an expert manipulator…but during my addiction I prayed for deliverance. I had treatment in the VA, Charter Rivers, Morris Village and even to Virginia, where I was hospitalized for a year,” Whitaker said.
His turning point? His son, Paul Jr.
The thought of what could possibly happen to Paul Jr. made Whitaker do an about-face on his own life and take the steps necessary to get his act together to save his son from imminent danger. He also credits his loving 8-year-old grand-daughter, Comaria Leah, with bringing the family back together for the sake of love.
“When I sing, it’s never about me,” Whitaker said. “When I put God first, he will give me what I need. Even when I take a bathroom break, I get on my knees to Him and do an assessment of my life. God gave me five senses…I try to use at least one all the time.”
Whitaker finds himself singing at weddings, funerals, stand downs, homeless shelters, and other functions. And he is mainly recruited from just being himself, singing in the halls. Complete strangers will approach him and ask him about singing at their special event.
As he continues to deliver down the hallways of Dorn with his melodious acapella songs, other staff members respond to the sounds of his musical voice. “He brightens up our mornings,” said Cantania Mattison and Bonnie Grissom, Registered Nurses for Primary Care. “If he’s not singing, we know something is wrong.”
Whitaker became employed at Dorn through the Vets4Success program at the Veterans Administration Regional Office in Columbia. He credits Jeff Soots, who was Dorn VAMC chief of logistics during that time frame, for giving him an opportunity to work in the program. “Mr. Soots told me to give the Engineering School at Midlands Technical a try, and I did. Imagine me, at the age of 57, going back to school. I did it, and got a certificate from the school and training.”
On sleepless nights, Whitaker just gets up and comes on in to work. He recalls being in the mail room at 2 a.m. on some mornings and just singing as loud as he can. “People call me all times of night for inspiration. Why? I guess because they see how far God has brought me,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker these days takes blessings in the fact that he has a key to put in a door that he can call home, as it was not always like that.
“Carrying the message through song is the easiest job you could have as a mailman,” Whitaker said.
And one day he hopes to fulfill his dream of giving back even more through singing. “I want to have a group of reformed Veterans come and sing with me. We will go far beyond William Jennings Bryan Dorn to Walter Reed to Texas to California, singing and telling our life and helping other Veterans like us,” Whitaker said. He encourages anyone interested, to get in contact with him.
(MEDIA NOTE: Photos are available upon request.)