I will never forget you

Editor's note: Joan Clayton's husband, Emmitt, died on Wednesday. She pays tribute with Emmitt's first-person account of his life.

"Please take care of my son." I well remember at 4 years old my mother's dying prayer.

I guess you could say I grew myself up. Having an alcoholic dad didn't help. Many times an aunt or a neighbor invited me to eat, and did I ever eat.

I worked my way through high school doing odd jobs I could find and God always provided. Whenever I felt discouraged I remembered mother's prayer.

Because of those prayers God sent special people into my life who helped and guided my way. A high school coach and a best friend's dad especially had a great impact upon my life.

The day I graduated from high school, I received a draft notice from Uncle Sam. I had some narrow escapes in the army but God kept me safe.

After my tour in the service I went to college on the G.I. Bill. I received a bachelor and master's degree in education.

I didn't plan to be a high school principal, but God did. He knew his plan for me all along. You see, I had been where most of the kids under my tenure had been. My life experiences had well prepared me for the real meaning of success in life … honoring God by your relationships with people.

The responsibilities of a high school principal are heavy and demanding. Not only that, the influence can last a lifetime. I had not applied for the job but was happy teaching art in junior high school. I prayed over the opportunity. Those prayers confirmed my acceptance.

Thus began a long stretch as a high school principal. Now that I'm retired, I laugh at some of the antics the students came up with. (Like the time a student locked a dead skunk in someone's locker.) One morning I went to school to find women's oversize underwear flying on the flagpole. Another time a student rode his motorcycle down the hall with a sheet over his head.

Not all the incidents contained humor. My heart ached for those who came from dysfunctional homes or those who had to grow up like I did.

Through it all, God gave me insight and as I prayed I received wisdom in every case I dealt with.

Every graduation day, I cried with the graduates. The goodbye hugs when I handed the diplomas still lingers in my heart of loving memories.

It is such a thrill for me to have so many recognize me wherever I go. They say, "Mr. Clayton, you were the best principal ever."

"I will never forget you."

"You really loved us, didn't you Mr. Clayton?"

Looking back, I thank God for answering my mother's prayer. Step by step God has guided my life.

The success of my leadership position came straight from my early morning quiet time prayers. I received inspiration for the day, asking God for wisdom.

I've found six important principles from that early morning guidance. I feel these build success in any leadership:

1. Be appreciative of others. Build relationships by sharing your appreciation for who they are and what they mean to you.

2. Be joyful. Being joyful, even in the most difficult situations dispels anxiety and offers hope.

3. Be patient. Impatience flares tempers, discourages others and causes unrest.

4. Be peaceful. The Bible admonishes all of us to live in peace and to be a peacemaker as much as possible.

5. Be forgiving. God has forgiven us. Forgiving an offense frees the offender to carry on with life.

6. Be thankful. Tell family, friends and children, (especially students of any age) of your thankfulness and love. Take this from someone who has been there. Doing everything God's Way brings success!

I met a former student at the post office the other day.

He gave me the old "high school" handshake and a big hug. Then he said,

"You know what Mr. Clayton? You're still pretty cool!"

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