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The late Rex Fleming, left, with his brother Ryan.
Photo provided by family

They live to tell the story

Like Hattie Jo Collins, Rex Fleming keeps blessing others — through the efforts of his family and the P4X Foundation.

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ABILENE, Texas — If there’s a kids’ section in heaven, I’m sure Rex has shown Hattie around. They have a lot in common.

When Bobby Ross Jr. asked me to read his story about Hattie Jo Collins, I could barely get through it. We read each other’s stories all the time — edit, critique and occasionally swap snarky remarks. Not this time.

“It’s magnificent,” I told him. “I didn’t change a word. It’s really personal.”

It’s personal because of Rex.

Related: ‘Momma, I can see Jesus’

Rex Fleming was 8 years old on Nov. 22, 2010, when persistent vomiting and a horrible headache sent him to the family pediatrician. By that night, an MRI revealed a golf-ball-sized tumor deep in his brain. The next day he was 150 miles down Interstate 20 at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. Two weeks later he had surgery to remove the tumor. Eight days after that, they learned it was malignant. Two years and three days later, he was forever healed.

But those two years do not define his life or his legacy. Like Hattie, his impact was far bigger than life in this world.

Like Hattie, Rex had a younger sister, Ashley. She’ll graduate from high school in May and attend Abilene Christian University in the fall. The Fleming kids grew up around ACU where their dad, Lance, spent 21 years as sports information director and assistant athletic director for media relations. I first met Lance when he was my student. I remember the night he brought Jill to my front door to introduce her to me. They’ve long since become family, and at our regular dinners at Casa Herrera, someone always has a Rex story.

The late Rex Fleming, center, with his family.

The late Rex Fleming, center, with his family.

Rex was a regular in the press box at Shotwell Stadium and at the scorer’s table in Moody Coliseum, devouring hot dogs and nachos at Crutcher Scott Field. On road trips he swapped stories with the ACU broadcast crew.

And he had opinions. Boy, did he have opinions, especially about ACU’s Wildcats and the Texas Rangers. His collection of jerseys and caps — a collection that only grew during his cancer battle — would be the envy of any respectable man cave, let alone a red-headed third grader.

I don’t know if Rex ever saw a magnolia tree – mesquite and live oak dot the broad plains of West Texas. But like Hattie, Rex saw Jesus. I don’t know if he ever saw him dressed all in white the way Hattie described him to her mother on the night before she died. Knowing Rex, he probably envisioned his savior in Wildcat purple and white, or Rangers red and blue. But we were there to see him baptized a year before his diagnosis, and the gap-toothed smile as he turned to the audience made it pretty clear he had been in touch with the Master.

Like Hattie, Rex’s family was blessed with a surprise red-headed sibling. Ryan was born in the middle of those two years. We watched him devour his first birthday smash cake while Rex was in hospice. I’m lousy at remembering exact dates but can almost always nail down the week something happened. I’ll always remember that Rex died between Ryan’s birthday and Thanksgiving. Ryan has grown up knowing all about Rex. He’s in middle school now.

Unlike Hattie, Rex was not the least bit shy among strangers. But both did share special friendships with big kids — Izzy for Hattie and a host of Wildcat athletes for Rex. And Michael and Kate, my big kids. Kate was a babysitter for the Flemings, and Rex’s unabashed crush on her was less than subtle. He and Michael, who had also grown up haunting ACU athletic venues, swapped stories and opinions about when the Rangers would make it to the World Series the first time, and who was the best-ever ACU quarterback.

The Flemings and the Bacons.

The Flemings and the Bacons.

On the night of Rex’s first MRI, Michael dashed home to grab his most prized possession before heading to the hospital to check on Rex. Only two diehard Rangers fans could understand the magic of a Michael Young home run ball caught on the fly and later signed by Josh Hamilton. (Why Josh and not Michael is another story altogether.) That ball is in Ryan’s collection now. And the mental image of Rex and Michael tossing a knotted towel football in Rex’s hospice room is forever in my heart.

Like his dad, Rex loved to sing. And he loved the Christian band Casting Crowns, especially the chorus of “Voice of Truth.”

“But the voice of truth tells me a different story.

The voice of truth says, ‘Do not be afraid!’”

He belted it out in the car between Abilene and Fort Worth — and from the audience at a Casting Crowns concert the night before his first surgery.

That night as Lance and Rex talked before bedtime, Lance said, “Well, buddy, it looks like you’ll have another great story to tell from today.”

Rex responded, “I will live to tell the story.”

Lance grabbed a napkin and through tears wrote down Rex’s words. He has shown me the napkin countless times. He knows I know Rex’s story. I know he knows. We know.

A few months after Rex died, Kate had the phrase tattooed on the arch of her foot. I’ve seen it countless times, too, and of late have seen it as she rocks her own baby boy or plays with his spunky 2-year-old sister. (If you disapprove of tattoos, don’t tell me. It’s beautiful.)

Like Hattie, Rex’s memory is honored by helping others. The P4X Foundation has supported families of children with pediatric cancer with meal and gas cards and Apple devices for the kids. It equipped a children’s rehab center now called The Rex. Our 10th and last golf tournament is this May, and sometime in the next year or so the foundation will probably dissolve – but not before we do a few more good things for folks who need a little good news.

Because, like Hattie, Rex lives to tell the story.

The Bacons and the Flemings at Casa Herrera.

The Bacons and the Flemings at Casa Herrera.

Rex Fleming was a big fan of Abilene Christian University's Wildcats.

Rex Fleming was a big fan of Abilene Christian University’s Wildcats.

The late Rex Fleming with former Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton.

The late Rex Fleming with former Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton.

The Flemings at a Texas Rangers game.

The Flemings at a Texas Rangers game.

CHERYL MANN BACON is a Christian Chronicle contributing editor who served for 20 years as chair of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Abilene Christian University. Contact [email protected].

Filed under: Abilene Abilene Christian University Cancer child deaths Children National Opinion Perspective Rex Fleming Texas Texas Rangers Top Stories West Texas

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