JARDINE: Many good years with a bullet in his head

jjardine@modbee.comApril 26, 2012 

Editor's Note: This is Jeff Jardine's September 2006 column on William Lawlis Pace.


Who wouldn't want to be in Guinness World Records for something?

Highest golf ball stacking (nine, without glue).

Surviving the most auto crash tests (718).

Sitting in a bathtub with the most live rattlesnakes (75).

William Lawlis Pace, a 97-year-old man who lives in a Turlock rest home, is a Guinness record-holder.

His talent? The resident of the Covenant Village Care Center has lived the longest with a bullet in his head.

This from the certificate Pace received from Guinness last month:

"William Lawlis Pace (USA, b 27 February 1909) was accidentally shot in October 1917, aged eight in Wheeler, Texas, USA. As of 20 July 2006, the bullet remains lodged in the back of his head as x-rays taken recently confirm, 89 years later."

The previous mark belonged to a guy who lived 61 years with, well, lead in his noggin.

The skinny:

Lawlis Pace -- he goes by his middle name -- lived on a farm, where his dad kept a .22-caliber rifle handy.

"Skunks kept coming in the hen house," Pace said.

One day, his older brother, Marvin, picked up the rifle, mistaking it for a toy model. The gun went off, and the bullet went into Lawlis' right ear. It passed through his head, but was stopped by the bone behind his left ear.

"It almost went clear across," Pace said, adding, "It's empty up there, so there was plenty of room."

They rushed him to a hospital in Dallas, where the doctor decided it would be too dangerous to remove it.

"He said, 'I'm not going to touch that,' " Pace said.

So the bullet stayed. Pace spent just a week in the Dallas hospital before going home.

He claims he felt no pain then or since, probably because the bullet ruined nerves and left the right side of his face looking as if he'd had a stroke. It also weakened the vision in his right eye.

"I never had a headache or nothing," he said. "I wasn't bothered by it at all. But I can't hear out of this (right) ear."

Upon returning to grammar school, Pace's teacher made an announcement to the class.

"They wouldn't let me scuffle (fight)," he said.

The injury didn't stop him from playing baseball -- a catcher, no less -- or basketball. He didn't play football, though. Too dangerous for a guy with a bullet in his head? Nah. He simply didn't like the game that much.

Ultimately, the accident bothered brother Marvin, now deceased, more than it did Lawlis.

"He never got over it," Lawlis Pace said. "I never had any hard feelings."

"When they'd get together, (Marvin) would get emotional and apologize, and Dad would tell him to forget about it," said Lawlis' son, Theron Pace of Redlands.

Seth "Tex" Pace of Turlock, Lawlis' younger brother by nine years and born after the accident, said the family seldom talked about the incident, nor did they treat Lawlis any differently because of it.

"I knew he had a bullet in his head," Tex Pace said. "It wasn't a problem with me. But my mom wouldn't allow a gun in the house. I don't recall ever having another gun."

Lawlis Pace got married Oct. 1, 1933. He spent 71 blissful years with wife, Onetia, before her death in 2004. They raised two sons, Theron and Bill, the latter now living in Arizona. Lawlis Pace farmed cotton, wheat and sorghum, first in Texas and then for more than six decades in Hilmar. Onetia's health forced them to move to a more moderate climate. So in 1944, they joined family in California.

Pace went about his life, providing for his family and remaining active in Hilmar Covenant Church, never knowing he was a Guinness world record in the making.

Fifteen-year-old Nicole Sinske, Pace's great-granddaughter, happened to be thumbing through the Guinness book one day and came upon the record set by a man who lived 61 years with a bullet in his head.

She knew her great-grandfather would wipe that record out by decades. The family decided to pursue it, and began compiling information -- photos, memories and stories by Lawlis and others. He posed for a new X-ray, which proved the bullet is still there.

"(The bullet's)in two pieces now," Pace said. "It came apart."

They submitted their entry, and received the document from Guinness in July.

"I've learned more about (the accident) in the last two months than I ever knew," brother Tex said.

Sure, there are easier ways to make it into Guinness World Records. Pace could have eaten 201 worms in 30 seconds to snatch that record from a guy in India.

Or he could have challenged the turkey-plucking mark of 1 minute, 30 seconds.

Instead, Pace's record is probably a tougher one to beat.

He's content, having thrived these past 89 years with a bullet in his head.

"I don't know that if I hadn't had the accident, I could have lived a better life," Pace said.

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