Gregory C. Bess: 5th Generation
Mormon in Dothan, Alabama
by Linda Lee Brown
As a fifth generation Southerner in the Church, Gregory Charles Bess, President of the Dothan Alabama Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is no stranger to service. It’s part of his heritage. Around 1900 Josiah and Elizabeth (Betty) Braxton Sims, farmers near Marianna, Florida, invited missionaries into their home to rest and recuperate from the long walk from North Georgia on their way to South Florida to preach and teach during the winter months. While the missionaries were there, Betty cooked and washed their clothes during the day. At night she and Josiah invited friends and neighbors to come to their home for meetings where the missionaries taught them the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Sims and their children ended up joining the Church along with several of their neighbors, many of whose families are represented in the Latter-day Saint congregations throughout the South.
Greg’s grandfather, Leo Sims, grandson of Josiah and Betty Sims, served as branch president of the Mariana, Florida Branch of the Church for eight years. Then he was assigned to the Stake High Council for many years, traveling to his assignments, often two hours one way for a morning meeting, and then an evening meeting before making the return two-hour trip home. He set the bar high for dedicated and exact service for family members to follow.
Greg was born August 13, 1959 in Mariana, Florida to Charles and Linda Bess. His father was a high school basketball coach, and found coaching opportunities in Canton, Georgia and then Attapulgus before the family finally settled in Bainbridge, Georgia when Greg was in the fifth grade. Charles continued to coach and eventually became Superintendent of the Decatur County School District. Charles believed in hard work and doing your best and instilled those characteristics in Greg at a young age.
Growing up, Greg was always one of only two or three teenagers in the branch and usually the only member of the Church at his school. For many years, he traveled with his mother thirty miles one-way to church every Sunday morning, back home for lunch and a short rest, then they back again for the afternoon sacrament meeting. It was a great time for them to talk about the Church and the events going on in their lives. All the students at school knew Greg was a Latter-day Saint and became accustomed to seeing him at school banquets making his way across the room with the traditional glass of iced tea to pour it out and refill it at the water fountain. In many ways, Greg was a quiet, but strong example of his standards and beliefs.
Greg inherited a love of basketball from his father. He had dreams of playing college ball and received a scholarship from Auburn University. However, when a coaching change occurred at Auburn, the scholarship was revoked. So Greg headed out for his freshman year at the University of Alabama. Here, he and his roommate became famous for their “home-cooked” meals. Their specialties were fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and peach cobbler. In fact, he is also a great biscuit maker! Greg learned his cooking skills from his mother and both grandmothers.
In May of 1982, Greg finished his four years at Alabama and was accepted to dental school at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB). Before starting dental school at UAB, Greg went home for the summer and worked for the Georgia Board of Education doing construction and maintenance work, everything from roofing to electrical work, to mowing school yards. However, the most important event that summer was when he asked his high school sweetheart, Brenda Mitchell to marry him. She said yes, and they were engaged on May 14th.
In the summer of 1983, Greg began having some problems with his stomach and eventually was diagnosed with an ulcer. He returned to school in the Fall, but by late October his symptoms worsened and doctors thought he had a form of hepatitis. When he didn’t respond to treatments, and after three weeks, the final diagnosis was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a form of cancer.
Treatment was difficult and made him very ill. His dental school professors tried to convince Greg to take six months or a year off from school and re-enter when his treatments were complete. However, Greg was determined not to quit school. He never missed more than a day of classes with each treatment, and was able to maintain his grades. Some may call him stubborn, but his stubbornness saw him through a very difficult time. The doctors were amazed at the way Greg handled treatment and attributed much of his recovery to his positive attitude. Greg knew his positive attitude was due, in part, to a special priesthood blessing he received.
Cancer was a turning point in Greg’s life. Trials in our lives have a way of making us look at who we are and what we are doing with the knowledge Heavenly Father has given us. Greg’s mother and grandparents had taught him the gospel all his life. During college and dental school he went to church, but not every Sunday. His activity in the Church was minimized as he spent more and more time studying and doing other things. Having cancer was a big “wake-up call” for Greg. He realized he needed to make some changes in his life; and change he did. He began attending church the way he knew he should, and he developed a great appreciation for everything Heavenly Father had blessed him with.
Greg and Brenda went ahead with their wedding plans and were married on a scorching day, July 14, 1984. Brenda joined the Church one year later, and on May 3, 1986 they were sealed in the Atlanta Georgia Temple. They lived in Birmingham and enjoyed many church callings. Greg’s first calling was to teach the 12 and 13 year-old Sunday School class. They enjoyed cooking together and cooking out with friends from church and school.
In June of 1986, Greg graduated from dental school. However, by then he had decided he didn’t want to be a dentist or orthodontist. What Greg really loved was surgery. He applied to UAB for an oral and maxillofacial surgery residency. He was one of two accepted that year. But this meant he had to go back and complete the last two years of medical school and then enter a three-year residency.
Their first “child” was Uno, a little Chinese Pug. She was difficult to handle and made Kyle, their first son, born on November 5, 1986, seem like an angel. Between completing medical school and moonlighting in emergency rooms around Birmingham, Greg saw very little of Kyle. To ease this situation, Greg would sometimes take Kyle with him on these moonlighting adventures. On August 13 1990, Abby was born on her father’s birthday. What a surprise and a great gift she was. When Kyle was 4 and Abby 1o months old, Greg finished his residency and they moved to Dothan. Carter was born eight months later.
Moving to Dothan gave Greg a little more time to enjoy some of his great loves, hunting, fishing, playing golf and going to the beach. He also spent much time coaching baseball, soccer, and basketball. In January of 1998, Greg was called as Bishop of the Dothan 1st ward, and Mitchell came into the family 10 months later.
Greg feels the best thing about being bishop has been working with the youth. He loves the youth. He enjoys being involved with young men and women as they make very important decisions in their lives. His advice to the youth has been and still is, “Do it because it is the right thing to do.”
On April 25, 2004, Gregory C. Bess was called to serve as Stake President of the Dothan Alabama Stake. His counselors are James Parker and Gerald Carroll. There are 3,251 members in the Dothan Alabama Stake. This past year, reflecting the message of one of his favorite hymns, “Because I Have Been Given Much, I too Must Give”, President Bess challenged members to not let a single day go by without doing a good deed for someone.
I love you Dad!