FOR THE PAST EIGHT YEARS,
Michael Lawing has walked the halls of the Hospice
of Rutherford County in North Carolina at least one
day a week with his Martin acoustic guitar, playing
and singing for patients and their families.
A kidney cancer survivor for nearly 20 years,
Lawing enters a patient’s room, pulls up a chair or
leans against a wall, and begins strumming. He
sings only gospel hymns like In the Garden or How
Great Thou Art, but that’s fine with his listeners.
For many residents at the hospice center, located in
western North Carolina, old hymns and spiritual
songs offer a connection to earlier times.
Travis Smith, a chaplain at the Hospice of
Rutherford County from 2006 to 2013, has witnessed
the power of Lawing’s singing and guitar playing.
“We would see patients who were almost withdrawn,
and once the music started, they would come out of
their shells and they would smile,” says Smith. “Time
and time again, Mike would go into the room and
through his talent and what he did, he would bring
patients back to a happier place."
Smith recruited Lawing to serve in the hospice’s
volunteer chaplaincy program in 2009, recognizing
Lawing not only for his musical gifts, but for what
Smith considers his ability to have meaningful conversations with people. Lawing, with humor, might
refer to his extroverted nature as his “gift of gab.”
But he embraces his role as a volunteer chaplain.
In 2016, he covered more than 2,900 miles to make
more than 200 visits for the hospice program.
Smith notes that Lawing’s music ministry has
engaged patients when conversations and prayers did
not. “It’s the music that’s literally bringing them out for
a few minutes to give them a sense of life again.”
A Man With a Guitar
Lawing is modest about his talents—he considers
himself an average singer and guitarist—but music
is his passion. He taught himself to play the guitar
at age 15 and began writing and performing songs.
He served in the U.S. Army’s 101st Airborne Division
during the Vietnam War, in 1969 and 1970, and was
awarded a Bronze Star. After returning home from
the war at age 21, Lawing enrolled in a community
college in Charlotte but dreamed of being a profes-
While completing his associate degree, Lawing
began teaching adult education and continuing education classes at a nearby minimum-security prison.
He designed courses covering topics like drug and
alcohol abuse, and he taught inmates basic skills they
would need to adjust to life in the outside world after
they were released.
“I still run into people from the prison camps,
and they tell me they’re glad they took those
classes,” Lawing says. In 1986, Lawing was named
Volunteer of the Year by the state’s Division of
Prisons for his involvement leading an inmate-run
program that raised money to buy gifts for needy
children and families.
Over the years, Lawing has worked long hours
in various industries, including printing, textile
manufacturing and pest control. With his wife,
Yvonne, they raised their son, Scott, in Rutherford
County. During these years, music took a back seat
to Lawing's busy life, but he occasionally played
guitar in his church. His life might have continued on this course had it not been for a visit to the
emergency room in November 1997 with severe
pain in his side. A computerized tomography (CT)
Lawing embraces his role
as a volunteer chaplain.
In 2016, he covered more
than 2,900 miles to make
more than 200 visits for the