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From Rags to Riches to Rehab: Lessons from the Ted Williams Story

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The story of Ted Williams captivated the hearts and imaginations of millions this month. The rags-to-riches story of a homeless veteran with a golden voice took him off the street corner begging for change to the sets of the Today Show, The Tonight Show, The Early Show, Inside Edition, Entertainment Tonight, and Dr. Phil. He had a tearful on-air reunion with his mother and a public talk-show-inspired meeting with his children.

Lucrative voiceover contracts with Kraft, MSNBC and others were given to him within days of his story going viral. The video of him being interviewed by a local reporter has been seen by 15 million viewers and counting. His rise to stardom in less than two weeks was remarkable. The glare of the spotlight showed us his talents but it also showed us his demons, which made the media, who took him to the high heavens in one swoop, quickly throw him back to earth with a crashing thud.


(AP Photo/NBC, Peter Kramer)

There are several lessons that can be learned from the Ted Williams story. Most comeback stories are filled with ups and downs. There are many Ted Williamses in Nashville and cities around the country waiting to be “discovered,” looking for an opportunity to prove they can earn a living and leave the life of the streets behind. They may not have a golden voice, but many have skills and abilities that have been buried under the hardships of homelessness.

Homelessness affects a person physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Many are looking for a second or even a third chance to correct the mistakes of the past. For every Ted Williams who needs a break, a Pat Waggoner is equally important for guidance, support and long term stability.

In Nashville, Pat Waggoner is known as a quiet and gentle man who loves his family, his church, and his community. He volunteers at the Criminal Justice Center and is the go-to guy for the local men’s baseball and basketball teams. He teaches fifth and sixth gradeboys on Wednesday nights. In the world of real estate, Pat Waggoner is known as the realtor who sold Donald Trump Trump Towers.

In a community where generosity and serving others are part of our DNA, Pat Waggoner serves with a human touch. When I first read about Ted Williams, I immediately wondered if he had a support system in place that would go beyond the splashy media headlines. I prayed that Ted Williams had a Pat Waggoner in his life, more so than an agent. Pat helps many who have fallen on economic hard times by helping with housing needs, serving meals, and keeping extra clothing in his sales office “just in case.”

Known for housing, feeding, and clothing the homeless, he also helps find them jobs so they can become independent and self-sufficient. Pat is a strong advocate for rehabilitation to make sure that individuals stay drug- and alcohol-free after they leave the streets. He keeps a list of individuals he knows from his real estate transactions, various networking and civic groups, and church members who aid him in his passion for helping others.

Pat initiates help with such deeds, but he makes sure that for long-term wellbeing he mentors men and families about financial literacy, and makes sure sure they have someone to call when stressful situations occur that can push a person over the edge. He encourages group therapy and spiritual counseling and believes strongly that counseling is one of the greatest keys to personal growth. No, Pat Waggoner is not Superman, but he is dedicated to deflating homelessness one person at a time. That takes dedication, and the understanding that getting a Ted Williams off the streets does not stop the struggles instantly. Unlike our culture’s demand for instant gratification, Pat is patient and believes that with faith, perseverance, and hard work, lives can change for the better.

Being around Pat is contagious. You become an advocate for the homeless without realizing it. He recruits you with one story at a time about individuals he has met over the years. He shares the goodness of men and women who just needed a break. His stories are filled with hope, compassion, and hurdles that were overcome in order to stay sober or drug-free.

Not every story ends on a high note, but he does not allow disappointment to deter him from reaching out to others. All too often when a very public rags-to-glad story falls short of our expectations, it has a chilling effect on us, and cynicism can creep into our giving and serving others. Pat’s actions can teach us to give to those in need and step out on faith and build relationships with individuals who may stumble and fall on the road to recovery. Leaving a life on the streets can happen with just one fateful encounter, but the emotional scars can follow one into one’s new dwellings or lifestyle. We must not allow national scrutiny of one person’s circumstances to affect the work we do in a city like Nashville known its generosity, or anywhere. If you come across a Ted Williams today, help him find a Pat Waggoner before he finds an agent. A life can be changed for good.

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About Genma Holmes

  • Butch

    This article is not so much about the plight of Ted Williams, but rather a profile of Pat Waggoner. Not a bad article perse, but I think the title is highly misleading.

  • Genma Holmes

    Butch,
    Thank you for your comments. The Ted Williams saga became nationally news. If I had put Pat Waggoner’s name in the title would you have connected it to the Ted Williams? In Nashville, yes. New York, I doubt it. The story is about lessons we can learn from the Ted Williams story.