A love that grace covers: Lee and Dr. Freda Bush

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Lee and Freda Bush

Grace in Alignment: How they met

Grace – a word that many believers in Christ have experienced as the unearned and unmerited favor of God. From a chance meeting at a worship service and through a near death experience and back, Lee and Dr. Freda Bush have manifested grace throughout their fifty years together with true love for God and true love for each other. 

Lee and Dr. Freda Bush met in 1969 in Jacksonville, Arkansas while Dr. Bush was visiting Marshall Road Baptist Church – a church where Mr. Bush attended regularly. “I was working at the University of Arkansas as a nursing instructor, and I was also going to the Baptist Student Union, which was walking distance from the hospital,” explains Dr. Bush. “I was asked by the director of the BSU if I would come and help them entertain some young men, who were taking their spring break to help put an extra room onto the home of a family that had three boys with muscular dystrophy. I was glad to go and encourage that type of experience and that type of work.”

Dr. Bush says that she was then asked to accompany the young men to their church to testify about the work they had achieved. As long as they provided transportation, she was sold. “So we go, and we get there. And it was an integrated church, which I did not know! Arkansas? 1969? An integrated church? Of course, that surprised me and pleased me.”

What Dr. Bush later found out was that the pastor and deacons at the church were diligently recruiting young men to come to the church.  “It didn’t matter to them what color they were. They were trying to give them a place where they could worship and letting them know that they were welcome,” Dr. Bush expressed.

 It seems that the leaders of Marshall Road Baptist Church were consistent in making all who came to fellowship with them feel welcome and feel like members of the church. Dr. Bush knew that she was coming to support the young men in giving their testimony, but she didn’t know that she would have to give one also.  “When they finished, the pastor pointed to me, and said, ‘You there! Stand up and give your testimony!’ Well, when he did that, I heard my daddy say the same thing because he always taught us whenever you get an opportunity to give your testimony, you should do it. Number one, you never know when it may be your last. And number two, you may influence somebody there in a manner that you couldn’t have otherwise.

“I stood up and I gave my testimony, which first was to compliment that church in Arkansas that had deliberately integrated, and when I finished giving that encouragement verbally, then I did what we do in black Baptist churches. You give your testimony, and you sing a song that is encouraging and commensurate with what you testified. So I sang, “Must Jesus bear the cross alone and all the world go free? No, there’s a cross for everyone and there’s a cross for me.”

The passion of Dr. Bush’s testimony is what led her to a chance meeting with Mr. Bush. The audience was so enthralled that they invited her back to sing with them for their revival the following week. That day, in the spring of 1969, the choir director’s wife picked her up from the university to drive her to Jacksonville. Dr. Bush sang in the choir, and there, also, was Lee Bush, standing, and singing, in the back of the choir.

“Marshall Road Baptist Church was located just outside of the Little Rock Air Force base where I was stationed,” says Mr. Bush.  “I had heard that there was a young lady visiting the church. And usually, it was only two families, so a total of maybe four people, that were integrating this church of maybe 200 or 300. But every time someone of color would come, they would always invite me or one of the others to come and make sure they were welcome.”

The first night Dr. Bush came to the church, Mr. Bush was working at his part time job at night.  “I didn’t get a chance to meet her the first night she was there. The next time she came, I was there. I think it was a Wednesday night. And at that time, I was singing in the choir, just a little bit in the back. So, when I got there, I came up to the back of the choir, and they were already standing. I could only see one black person in the choir, and I saw these big legs from the back,” he recounts while smiling.

It so happened that the choir director’s wife, who had so graciously driven Dr. Bush to the service, had suddenly fell ill. And of course, as fate would have it, Lee Bush was able to drive Freda McKissic – her maiden name – the 45-minute distance back to the university. “Everyone had a ride except Freda, so I volunteered to take her home. At that time, I had a four-speed car, and as I can remember, I drove it only three gears all the way to Little Rock, just talking to her,” he discloses.

  During their talk, they found out that they shared similarities, including that there were nine siblings in each family. The first born of both of their families were girls, and the second born were both boys, and so down the line until it reached the fifth born in both families. “We began to share our background, our stories. And as she talked, it was like, hmmm, I’m the fifth of nine. She’s the fifth of nine. Everything sort of lined up, except I happened to be a boy at number five, and she a girl. 

These commonalities were the catalyst to a budding friendship. “I think she told me she was not looking for a boyfriend or something like that,” says Mr. Bush. And Dr. Bush states that Mr. Bush shared the same sentiment, “He said, ‘That’s all right. I’m not looking for a girlfriend.’” But God, and eventually both their families, knew that they were destined to use that friendship as a foundation for building and sharing a life together. 

These newly minted friends exchanged numbers after that fateful car ride, eventually sharing conversations over the phone and visiting with each other at the university. And Dr. Bush slowly began to let her guard down. “Let me tell you what this man did. Whenever he came, he brought something. He either brought flowers or he brought food.” Mr. Bush worked at the officer’s club on the base and didn’t want to throw away the items they didn’t sell at the end of the day. “He was just so nice. A plus he had for me was his thoughtfulness, and you know, just simply being a regular Joe.” 

As a preacher’s kid, Dr. Bush would travel to Pine Bluff, where she grew up, on the weekends to visit her family and attend church. “I would take the Greyhound bus and go to Pine Bluff every weekend. And one Saturday, we’re at home and my dad is sitting in the den reading the newspaper. Mom was in the kitchen cooking. I’m at the piano playing, and daddy’s looking out the door, and he goes, ‘Who’s coming into my driveway driving a blue Dodge?’ I’m thinking, Lee Bush has a blue Dodge, but I have not told him where I live. So why is he here, if that’s him?

“I get up off the piano. I look, and it is Lee Bush. When he comes in, of course, I introduced him to my parents and I say to him, ‘How did you find me ‘cause I’ve never told you my address or anything.’ And he said, ‘I stopped at a service station when I got to Pine Bluff, and I asked [the attendant] where Reverend McKissick lived. They gave me the address and the directions. It wasn’t hard to find you.’”

Dr. Bush explains that they enjoyed dinner and fellowship with one another. “And as he is leaving, my father said, ‘That is a good man and he loves you.’ What? I mean we haven’t been dating. Why would you say that? He says, ‘You can look at a man and see if he’s worth his salt or not.’ Well, coming from my daddy, that was a good recommendation.” That recommendation was also seconded by Dr. Bush’s mother. 

It was further validated by Mr. Bush’s family, whom Dr. Bush met when she was flown out to Columbia, SC, courtesy of Mr. Bush. “My mother said, ‘If you were considering the possibility of y’all marrying, then meet his people. When you marry him, you marry the family.’ I told him what she said, and he bought me a ticket and flew me out there to meet his parents. We had known each other two weeks about then.” 

Around this time, Dr. Bush found out that she had been accepted to Columbia University in New York City. “You don’t get accepted to them and turn them down, you know. So that was the thing. I said to him that even though he’s in the service and he’s stationed in Arkansas, whether we marry or not, I am going to Columbia University,” she expressed. “And he said, ‘Well why don’t we get married before you go to Columbia?” She said yes. After three months of courtship, Freda McKissic became Freda Bush when the two united in holy matrimony on July 5, 1969.

The Pace of Grace: Holding each other’s hand through life

The Bushes must’ve learned a lot about life during their first car ride together because throughout each stage of life, they have managed to adjust the speed and the gears just right in every part of their journey. 

After they got married, Dr. Bush moved to New York to get a degree in midwifery from Columbia University. Then, Mr. Bush began to put in applications to transfer his service to New York. Though it took him six months to get a transfer, Mr. Bush found a creative way to stay in touch. “Instead of sending letters, I would send cassette tapes and I would pretend I was a DJ,” expressed Mr. Bush. And whenever he would come to visit Dr. Bush, he would stay in the dorm rooms, where she was a resident assistant (RA).

They had their first child in 1972 and moved out to Queens, NY. Nonetheless, they began to think about raising their family and moving back down south. Mississippi sounded like the perfect middle ground between Arkansas and South Carolina. “He is from the South, I’m from the South, let’s go back home,” says Dr. Bush.  “I started putting in applications for midwifery. At that time, you didn’t have a lot of choices, but the University of Mississippi had a nurse midwifery program. I started looking around and found out that they were looking for a director of the midwifery program and they asked me if I would apply. And that’s what happened.” 

During the course of her time at the hospital, personnel changes were made, and Dr. Bush found that many of the responsibilities that were previously a part of the midwifery program were now being given to the doctors on staff. “What I had been doing in New York, and what I was initially doing when I came here, was that we were training the nurse midwives and helping them take care of the mothers. Then the situation changed. If the residents wanted to take a patient from us, they could because they were doctors and we were nurses. And Lee said I would get frustrated at work. I would come home and yell at him. He would yell at the kids and the kids would kick the dog,” Dr. Bush jokes. 

Grace Upon Grace: Building Up

This led to a eureka moment that would add to the value of not only their lives, but the lives of the black community in Jackson and Mississippi. “[Lee] asked me one day, he said, ‘Who’s doing what you want to do?’ And I said, well the doctors are but we did it in New York, you know? And so he says, ‘If the doctors are doing what you want to do and what you’ve been trained to do, why don’t you become a doctor?’ I hadn’t even thought of that.”

Dr. Bush enrolled into Jackson State University and took two years of prerequisites. She then took the medical exam, passed it and enrolled at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. She graduated there with her medical degree and received her OB-GYN certification from the University of Tennessee in Memphis. By this time, the Bushes had four children – Freda, Lea, Jocelyn, and Lee, II –  who would pack up in the car and travel back and forth to visit and stay with their mom.

The Bushes live in west Jackson. They have been in the same house they first moved to in Jackson for over forty years. That is important to note because after both Dr. Bush and Mr. Bush, the owner and operation of National Collection Services, achieved success in their respective careers, they decided to continue to support and build where they were.

After Dr. Bush finished her residency, she and Mr. Bush decided to come back and reinvest in their community. Dr. Bush worked at Jackson Hinds Comprehensive Health Center and started one of the first, if not the first, mixed private practices in the state with Dr. Beverly McMillan. East Lakeland OB-GYN Associates has been a solid and growing resource for women in the state since 1987. And though Dr. Bush is now retired, her legacy there will always live on.

Amazing Grace: The Lazarus Effect

Lazarus – there are two men that went by that name in the Bible. One of which is remembered as the subject of one of Jesus’ most remarkable miracles during His time on earth. Jesus raised him from the dead after he had been in his grave for four days.

In 2018, Dr. Freda Bush contracted the West Nile virus and her miracle of a recovery was chronicled in a scientific research paper, entitled: “Lazarus Effect of High Dose Corticosteroids in a Patient with West Nile Virus Encephalitis: A Coincidence or a Clue?” written by neurologists Dr. Art Leis of Methodist Rehabilitation Center (MRC), who was instrumental in her recovery, and Dr. David Sinclair of Mississippi Baptist Medical Center and published in “Frontiers of Medicine.”

Mr. Bush chronicles the surreal time in their lives. “It happened so fast. I took her to the emergency room on a Tuesday morning. On that Monday, she is functioning well because she was rewriting a book called “Hook”, and she was specifically working on the sixth chapter. That Monday she had also gone to the airport and picked up a friend of ours. And when I got home Monday evening, she was sitting upstairs at the desk and writing, but she was a little tired. She was nodding off.”

Lee says that he went downstairs to grab something to eat and then went back upstairs. “I went back upstairs and she was just really sluggish and tired and not real talkative. So we went to bed, and the next morning, I got up and she really was even less talkative. I didn’t understand that. So I touched her forehead and touched her torso, and she was burning up. I looked at her face and I said, ‘No, I need to get you outta here and take you somewhere.’

So I called the doctor and couldn’t get an immediate response and then I called her office,” he detailed. Dr. Bush’s office manager, Jenny answered the phone. “Jenny is the kind of person who would just get some things done for you,” says Mr. Bush. At that time, Jenny’s recommendation was to get Dr. Bush to the nearest hospital, which happened to be the Baptist hospital.  “We went to the Baptist and people there know her, so while I’m parking the car, they’d taken her in the back and hooked her up with all kinds of IVs and antibiotics. But her temperature still wouldn’t go down. We ended up keeping her for overnight observation and actually had to bag her with ice to get the temperature down.”

It took the doctors five days to come up with a diagnosis. Dr. Bush had contracted the West Nile virus. “That’s when six doctors – two infectious disease, two pulmonary and two brain doctors, said, ‘It’s a virus. There’s nothing we can do and we just have to wait and see what happens.’ What I’m saying to myself is that you’re talking about my wife. Within this short period of time, her eyes are closing up and she’s not responding. Everything is shutting down.”

Jenny comes to the rescue again.  “I call her office again to talk to Jenny and to see what we need to do. So, Jenny got on the computer, did research and found a doctor right here in Jackson at the Methodist Rehab Center who had been studying the West Nile virus and been consulting with other doctors about treatment.”

Dr. A. Arturo Leis was the doctor that Jenny was able to find. Mr. Lee calls him his angel doctor.  “He came right over after seeing his patients. I saw this long white coat and a black bag coming in the waiting room. He’s coming directly to the table. I said out loud, ‘Here comes my angel doctor.’ He said, ‘Why’d you call me that?’ I said because you’re my angel doctor come to help me with this West Nile virus. He said, ‘Well, my name is Angel, but I don’t use that name because when I was little, kids teased me a lot. And so I stopped using that name, but you can call me Angel,” Mr. Bush reveals.

Dr. Leis had confidence that he could help Dr. Bush. Though it was counter intuitive to what most doctors would have done, Dr. Leis gave her a very high dose of steroids. “Within 24 hours after the first dose, her eyes began to open and that’s all I wanted to see.”

On her illness, Dr. Bush says, “I think, in a way, it was a blessing that the Lord didn’t let me know what I was going through.”

What is even more miraculous than Lazarus being revived by Jesus is the diligence, care and love that Jesus showed. He knew that he and his disciples risked death if he went back into Judea, yet he still went. He saw the hurt and anguish of Mary and the other mourners, and he wept. And what is miraculous about the love and care of a husband like Lee Bush is that it also is responsible for setting Dr. Bush on the bright road to recovery.

Mr. Bush would rarely leave her side, even in the ICU. He rubbed her feet and played praise music in her room every day. Their entire family came to live with them to take care of Mr. Bush because they knew he was taking care of his wife.

Dr. Bush expressed, “At Christmas, when [my grandsons] were going around talking about what they had to be grateful for, every last one of them boys talked about how granddaddy had taken care of grandma. And I just boo hoo’d, because I was thinking to myself, you can’t tell me those boys aren’t going to be good to their wives because they saw how grandaddy took care of me.” She adds, “Lord, I would not have wished West Nile on anybody, but I thank you. That if I had to have it, those boys saw their grandfather take care of me.”

Mr. Bush adds, “I call her my miracle in slow motion because we’ve been able to see a lot of improvement and a lot of development from her illness in terms of her recovery – mentally, physically, in every way. These are all miracles. And so that’s why I call it slow motion. And everyday, there’s something new.”

The Bushes have been able to spend time with family, enjoy vacations, and love on each other during Dr. Bush’s road to recovery. And though, she has moved down from high soprano to alto, Dr. Bush is still singing! May God continue to bless them and cover them with grace.

DeAnna Tisdale Johnson has stepped into the role of publisher of her family legacy, the Jackson Advocate. Since March 2020, she has led the publication to once again become an award-winning newspaper with a new logo and website to boot. She is a Jackson native, graduating from Murrah High School and Tougaloo College. She is also classically trained in vocal performance, and, though she’s never broken a glass, she’s known to still hit a high note or two.

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A love that grace covers: Lee and Dr. Freda Bush

By DeAnna Tisdale Johnson
February 13, 2020