I learned this week that Dr. John Ishee died last Saturday, May 26. This was very sad, but not unexpected news. John had been a part-time counselor at the Pastoral Counseling Centers of Tennessee (PCCT) for a couple of years after he retired as the Director of Pastoral Care at Cumberland Heights treatment center. I had heard of John for years before I first met him. I first met him personally when I went through the family program at Cumberland Heights while working for the Alcohol and Drug Council of Middle Tennessee. I had read two of John’s books and was honored to finally meet him. John was a kind and humble person. He had an unassuming style, but was strong and courageous. I wish I had known him better than I did, but what I knew made him a person to admire for me. John had a passion for his work and he gave of himself to help those that he encountered. In addition to the education and counseling he did at Cumberland Heights, he also lead their worship services in the chapel each Sunday morning. Before Cumber Heights built their new “Chapel-torium”, the services in the old chapel had to be broadcast on closed-circuit T.V. to other rooms at Cumberland Heights that were used for overflow. John not only talked about God’s grace, but he embodied it. Even when talking about people or things that were difficult, John had a way of being loving and kind.
John was a deep thinking, a thoughtful and caring person who embodied grace and love in his interactions with others. He was the kind of person that when I spent time with him, I always came away feeling that I had so much room to grow. However, after spending time with John, I never came away feeling bad about myself in any way because John embodied such a caring and encouraging spirit. Each encounter with him was truly a breath of fresh air in an otherwise cluttered and stifling day.
When John was preparing to retire from Cumberland Heights he approached me about working at PCCT. Though John had training and 24 years of experience in Pastoral ministry and counseling, he was not a licensed counselor. We agreed that he would come to work for PCCT part-time and we would provide him with supervision. If he got the hours he needed for licensure before he was ready to retire again, then he could apply for a license, but if not, then he would be able to provide care for people legally. Somehow, I had the feeling that those who were in supervision group with John would learn more from him than he would learn from the group, but John never said that. John always talked about what a blessing it was to work with us and to be in the Supervision group. That just seemed to reflect the genuine humility with which John lived his life.
John left PCCT on medical leave about a year ago after being diagnosed with cancer. I tried to keep up with him and called him from time to time. Each time I called he would tell me of his latest treatments for cancer, but he also knew that he would probably not survive his illness. I thought it was just like him to be thinking about how to care for others after he was gone. He said that he wanted to be sure that gifts given in his honor would either go to the endowment fund at Cumberland Heights or the Pastoral Counseling Centers of Tennessee. There many people that I can learn from in this world, but there have been just a few that I would want to emulate. John Ishee was that kind of man for me. He was a blessing to so many and he will be missed in this world. I pray God’s peace and comfort for John’s wife, Myra, and the rest of his family.