Guinness World Record holder William Lawlis Pace had his 102nd birthday party on Sunday, February 27, 2011 at Covenant Village Care Center in Turlock. Lawlis, as he is best known as, was given the record title in 2008 for “longest time to live with a bullet in the head.”
In 1917, Lawlis, who was 8 years old at the time, and his brother Marvin, 12 years old, were playing at their Burkburnett, Texas farm house when his brother picked up their dad’s single shot .22 caliber rifle and was playfully holding his brother at gunpoint. His brother did not know the gun was loaded when he pulled the trigger and accidently shot Lawlis in the head.
Lawlis said that he was soaking in blood and that his family might have thought his brother had killed him. He was taken to the hospital and later sent to a specialist in Dallas. Despite the headshot wound, Lawlis remained conscious without major signs of trauma. The doctors decided to leave the bullet in his head because it was too close to the brain and that it was too risky to try to do anything for him.
Bill Pace, Lawlis’ son who was visiting Turlock for his dad’s birthday, said that there are two fragments from the bullet, but whether or not the fragments were both there originally or split at some time, he’s not sure because the old x-rays from 1917 were lost.
“The bullet is still there because they had to have x-rays about 3 or 4 years ago to confirm for the book of Guinness,” Pace said about his dad. “He’s deaf in his right ear, blind in the right eye, because of the nerves being severed, and that’s also why his face became twisted.”
The shot to the head never bothered Lawlis, or not enough to stop him from a long life of farming, getting married, traveling around the world, having kids, and living to see many grandchildren and great-grandchildren as he turned 102 years old.
Before the woman he married, Onetia, passed away in 2004, Lawlis celebrated 70 years of marriage.
On Sunday, Lawlis’ son Bill Pace, and his grandson Wes Pace, who turned 50 years old this year, threw the 102nd birthday party where other family, friends, and Covenant Village Care Center residents came to celebrate the special occasion over birthday cake and punch.
Nephew Mel Pace, who’s dad accidently shot Lawlis back in 1917, came to celebrate but also tries to visit every Sunday. Lawlis’ brother Seth “Tex” Ocie, who is 93 and still golfs, showed up to celebrate his brother’s birthday as well. Lawlis moved out to Hilmar in 1945, and as with most gatherings of Hilmar people, many seemingly were related or connected in one way or another. Bill Pace’s brother-in-law, Dale Wickstrom, was in attendance and was the one who succeeded Lawlis as the long-time Hilmar Cemetery Gravedigger. Grace Allen, a fellow Covenant Village Care Center resident who turned 101 in May 0f 2010, was also celebrating in good spirit. There was a century between Dale Wickstrom’s granddaughters who were in attendance and Lawlis.
“Thanks to everyone that’s come out this afternoon to celebrate with dad, we keep wondering how many of these we are going to do,” Bill Pace said sincerely but while also laughing. “It’s a great blessing to have dad, not only be with us all these years, but to remain in relatively good health for all of that time. He certainly does not suffer from anything that causes him pain.”
“I don’t hear so well, so it’s better I be quiet and just be thankful,” said Lawlis. “I’m thankful for my health and all my wonderful good friends, and most of all, my faith.”
Covenant Village staff announced that Lawlis Pace was the oldest resident at the retirement facility and that he’s always such a soft spoken gentleman who has a good sense of humor, is fun and can still tell of his memories accurately.
As Lawlis is known as someone who does what he says, his son Bill clarified that there’s been one exception so far.
“The one thing he hasn’t followed through on, just after he was acknowledged in the Guinness book of records, dad said in TV and newspaper interviews, ‘now that I’m famous I think I’ll run for office’ but he hasn’t done that,” explained Pace.
In closing, Bill said, “It’s great that he can enjoy life, even at this age.”
“I’m thankful for this day, that I’m still here, with family and friends, and may God bless them all,” said Lawlis.
As Lawlis keeps living past 102, he keeps adding to his world record for “longest time to live with a bullet in the head,” a record some believe will not be broken.
Rachel Wickstrom, Bill Pace’s niece, said “They can take bullets like that out now; no one will break this record… not only because of the age but because of technology.”
Lawlis has lived 94 years with a bullet in his head and only time will tell when he is finished adding to his record.