10th Southeast Texas Legends Scholarship honors Joe Wesley “Dr. Joe” Dickerson
Lamar University and the Beaumont Foundation of America have announced the 10th Southeast Texas Legends Scholarship – this one honoring Dr. Joe Wesley Dickerson. The $100,000 endowed scholarship will assist underserved students who attend Lamar University , President James Simmons said at a ceremony and news conference Monday, Feb. 25, in the University Reception Center of the Mary and John Gray Library.
Dickerson, affectionately known for years as “Dr. Joe”, was invited in 1978 to serve on the assessment committee investigating the Shroud of Turin, the reputed burial cloth of Jesus, which is housed in the cathedral of St. John the Divine in Turin , Italy . His lectures at Duke University Theological School on the shroud led to another invitation and biblical landmark, Saint Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula . Dickerson was honored by Princeton University on April 19, 2007, for the biblical research performed at the monastery during several visits.
Dickerson has practiced medicine in Jasper for 60 years, and, at age 93, he still regularly sees patients at Mary E. Dickerson Memorial Hospital , the hospital he built in 1964 and dedicated to his wife, who died in 1961. Although he no longer performs surgery or delivers babies, he maintains a full-time medical practice with a heavy patient load. As country doctors go, a title he proudly bears, he doesn’t exactly fit the model of what one would expect for a rural physician. His life’s travels have taken him on many exciting adventures.
Born in the northeast Tyler County community of Rocky Springs, he spent his early childhood as most farmers do, milking cows, slaughtering hogs and picking peas, peanuts and cotton. The family farm has been in the Dickerson family since 1870. A 1931 graduate of Kirby High School in Woodville, he graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University before entering the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston where he earned his medical degree in 1941. He married Mary Elizabeth McRae in 1942 before joining the Army Air Corps. He served as a P-38 pilot and a flight surgeon in World War II and ended his stint stationed in the Philippines in June 1946.
His religious philosophy was formed in a small country church, and he credits his mother’s influence for his faith. During his wife’s illness, Dickerson met a fellow physician who was a deeply religious, man, and eventually, their conversations turned to the Shroud of Turin. The conversation sparked an interest in the Jasper physician, and he began to read and investigate the literature on the subject.
“There was some research that got published out of Turin , Italy , and I got interested in the thing,” said Dickerson. “My interest developed in the shroud, and I suddenly found myself associated with a group in 1978 called STURP (Shroud of Turin Research Project). I didn’t contribute to the research, but I was able to get them a little money.”
After gathering all the photographic and imaging equipment available, the research team made the trip to Italy , and, in 1978, the archbishop of Turin gave permission to allow the team to research the shroud for one week. The team worked around the clock to perform their investigations, and the findings were presented at the Duke University Theological School . As a result of the lectures Dickerson presented at Duke, he was approached by representatives of Princeton University who wanted his assistance in gaining access to the multitudes of ancient scrolls and documents housed at Saint Catherine’s Monastery.
“I had never heard of Saint Catherine’s, but it intrigued me, so I started to read everything I could. It is the site of many historical religious events; the most prominent three events being the location where Moses met and married the daughter of Jethro at the feet of Mount Sinai, Moses encountering God at the burning bush and the site where Moses received the Ten Commandments,” Dickerson related. “Pilgrims journeyed to this area through the centuries because this is where God first encountered man.”
On the first visit to the monastery, the team was given a resounding “no” to its request to photograph and document the scrolls. A group of German researchers in 1860 visited the monastery to view the treasure trove of ancient documents, and the oldest known copy of the Bible disappeared from the monastery. The monastic leaders decided then that never again would foreigners be allowed access to the scrolls. Four subsequent journeys to the monastery by Dickerson and the researchers created a rapport with the Archbishop Damianos of Sinai, and the monastery was eventually opened to the researchers. Until Dickerson and the research team photographed and documented the ancient texts, many of the scrolls and documents preserved at the monastery had not been seen by man for more than 500 years.
“I’d like to thank the Beaumont Foundation of America for their commitment to Lamar University and the underserved individuals who will take advantage of this generous endowment for many years to come,” Simmons said. “We’re certain the students who attend Lamar via this scholarship opportunity will emulate the great example set by Dr. Joe Dickerson.”
The Beaumont Foundation of America is a non-profit organization that grew out of the historic $2.1 billion settlement of a nationwide class action suit to obtain relief for those who bought defective computers.
“The foundation is still focused on the underserved, but the mission has broadened beyond technology, and that mission starts with a fundamental reality of our global economy, in which education is essential for a successful life,” said Frank Newton, president and CEO for the foundation.