Clarence Boggan delivers more than the mail
Letter carrier who was paralyzed walks on to inspire those on his route
By Bill Focht, Special to the Observer
Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012
I remember the day I opened my mailbox and saw the note: “Many of our neighbors have been asking where Clarence Boggan, our mailman, has been. We are saddened to report the news Clarence was shot and is paralyzed as the bullet hit his spinal cord. He is in the Charlotte Institute of Rehabilitation. If you would like to send him a note of encouragement, here is his address.”
From left, Bill Focht, mail carrier Clarence Boggan, and Bill Focht’s son Nick, who was paralyzed in an accident at age 23. JEFF WILLHELM – firstname.lastname@example.org
The year was 1999, six years after I moved into my house at the end of a cul-de-sac in Charlotte’s Stonehaven neighborhood. From the first conversation I had with Clarence, I could sense he enjoyed delivering the mail, meeting and greeting everyone with a smile and wave of the hand.
He delivered it in workmanlike fashion, but he always had time to talk with me about sports, especially North Carolina basketball. I learned he had a daughter and son around the same ages as my three sons. We wouldn’t talk long at any one time, but over the months and years we became friends and I went to thinking he was the best mailman I had ever had.
The chances of him working again were marginal at best.
At least a year went by and I didn’t get to know my new mail carriers, as they rotated between different people. They delivered the mail efficiently, but there was no small talk about sports or the like. I often thought about Clarence and how he was doing. I never realized how hard physical rehabilitation is for spinal cord injury. The other drivers would do their best to give an encouraging word on his condition. They told me Clarence had been released from rehab and was working behind a desk at the main post office but needed a cane to walk.
I assumed I was never going to see Clarence in a mail truck again.
Then one day more than a year after I received the note in my mailbox, I pulled into the neighborhood, looked at the mail truck and there, behind the wheel, was Clarence.
I stopped in the middle of the road and jumped out of my car to shake his hand. I can count on one hand the number of times I have been that surprised and happy to see someone. When he arrived at my mailbox we talked about his ordeal. He told me he had been playing basketball with his son and was hit by a bullet from a random shooting.
The bullet struck him in the back, nicked his spinal cord and exited out the front of his abdomen without hitting any major organs. It left him paralyzed on his right side for six months. When he returned to work, management put him at a desk job. But he wanted to get back out on his old route; he had been delivering in Stonehaven since 1984.
He was able to pass a driving test by using his hand to push his legs on the pedals. And now here he was, back in the neighborhood.
If the story ended there it would be a great story – but it doesn’t end there.
Injury hits home
On Jan. 29, 2003, my son Nick suffered a spinal cord injury in an accident. He was left paralyzed from the chest down. Nick was 23, a former high school wrestler in good physical condition. The surgeon met us in the waiting room and delivered a sobering appraisal of what to expect. Nick would never walk again.
After surgery to straighten his backbone with metal rods, he spent several days in recovery, then was moved to Carolina Institute of Rehabilitation (now Carolina Rehabilitation).
On his second day at rehab, Clarence paid a visit. He walked into the room wearing his mail uniform. It was probably the lowest point in my life and Clarence’s timing was perfect. He sat on the edge of Nick’s bed and told both of us what he had gone through during and after the shooting.
He told us that after being in rehab for several months he had a dream that he could move his leg. When he woke up he could wiggle his toes. He told how happy he was to have feeling back in his leg, and how hard he worked to learn to walk again.
His story inspired Nick. He spent several months in rehab learning to transfer from his bed to his new wheelchair and from his wheelchair to the couch. There was so much to learn about spinal cord injury and its effect not only on the injured, but on the supporting family and friends.
To “graduate” from rehab, Nick had to learn how to jump an 8-inch curb so he wouldn’t be stuck rolling around a parking lot. He was finally released and moved back with us until we could find a suitable home where he could live by himself. Nick and Clarence often talked at the mailbox about their common experience and other subjects. They still stay in touch.
Mail route as ministry
Clarence is getting ready to retire and I wanted to tell his story before he left his route. He told me something I’ll never forget the other day:
“Ever since my accident, my mail route became even more of a mission than it was before. More of a ministry. My well-being is not all about me but about God. Being a letter carrier has provided joy in my life that no other job could have provided. I’ve met so many wonderful people and families. I’ve watched their children grow up from babies to adults. As the children grow up, they say ‘mailman’ and later ‘Clarence’ or ‘Mr. Boggan.’ God I love it.”
Clarence touched many lives, none more than mine.
Bill Focht, 57, lives in southeast Charlotte and works in general construction/construction consulting. He and his wife, Anne, have three grown sons.