TUPELO • Even though the laughs had to be delivered virtually, Greg Burks finally got his chance to go from simply attending and supporting the Antone Tannehill Good Samaritan Free Clinic roast to being the roastee.
“Being on stage in front of the lights with a production crew, knowing that your friends are sitting there fixing to roast you, it’s a pretty crazy feeling to be there, but it’s quite an honor to be selected,” the Tupelo local said. “I’m very honored to be in that select group of honorees over the past years.”
The annual Antone Tannehill Good Samaritan Free Clinic roast and auction is the free clinic’s only fundraiser of the year. The event helps provide free medical, dental and pharmaceutical care to the eligible working uninsured and temporarily unemployed in Lee County. The clinic has been open for almost 26 years and has always worked to support the people who live and work in Lee County.
Director Amy Fagan said the clinic has seen more patients seeking care because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Even before the pandemic, she noted many of their patients work two to three jobs to make ends meet and often have multiple health issues that would be financially burdensome to treat without insurance.
“They don’t qualify for Medicaid or Medicare, and yet private health insurance is too expensive, so they’re not able to afford it,” Fagan said. “Without the clinic, they would not have health care. We really work to provide them with a medical home so that they can come here and get everything they need.”
The clinic had already chosen Burks, Renasant Bank’s president of private client services for Northeast Mississippi, as this year’s roastee when COVID-19 shifted everything. Elizabeth West, who is in charge of fundraising, said the clinic initially cancelled the roast for safety concerns. Then the financial repercussions of COVID-19 hit.
“Everybody gets laid off. Everybody gets furloughed, and they don’t have insurance, so we realized our money was not going to be able to serve the number of people that would be knocking on our doors due to COVID,” West said.
They shifted to an online event, pooling resources and organizing with only about two months of prep, West said. The Free Clinic’s 21 board members, including a main fundraising committee of six to eight people, helped by donating at least two items for the online auction, which ran from Oct. 18 to Oct. 26. The auction raised over $15,000.
The roast aired Tuesday at 7 p.m. on the Free Clinic’s Facebook page and website. Burks’ longtime friends Rocky Miskelly, Will West, Michael Reece and Brad Miller shared tales about his propensity for practical jokes, making up his own vernacular, thriftiness and love for adventure. Miskelly, the roast’s host, relished the opportunity to crack jokes about his friend in the name of a good cause.
“I’m not going to say he was desperate in asking me to host, but it was addressed to ‘Dear Occupant,’” Miskelly said.
Will West shared his own advice about taking precautions when going on trips with Burks. Two highlights were driving rather than flying to Del Rio, Texas, after one of Burks’ prank kept him from flying for a while and going to a concert as a group dressed like Larry the Cable Guy while everyone else was dressed normally.
“I like to tell people to use my two rules, OK? The first rule is caution. Know what you’re getting into,” West said. “The next thing is keep your head on a swivel, because this man is the practical jokester of the world. He’s going to get you. The question is when are you going to get him back.”
Reece met Burks in high school and was his roommate at Ole Miss freshman year. He saw Burks through an embarrassing moment in their political science lecture, and Burks in turn gleefully shared photo evidence of the time Reece lost his two front teeth in a frozen Snickers bar. Miller joked about his many nicknames – most self-proclaimed – and how he loves couponing and saving money.
“He’s got the job at Renasant Bank and I’m thinking, this is perfect for Greg, right? With money, he’s conservative. He’s frugal. He’s cheap. He’s a tight son of a gun,” Miller said.
Aside from belly laughs, Elizabeth West hopes the roast showed people how the Free Clinic is here to help Lee County. The Free Clinic played videos with testimony from patients at the end of the roast. West said it is important to remember their clients are the “pillars of our community.”
Burks agreed, saying the need this year for the Free Clinic is greater than ever. After being a financial contributor and attendee for the last 20 years and seeing the importance of the clinic in the community, he said it was hard to turn down being the roastee. He personally tried to help secure auction items and called his network of friends to have them support the cause.
“These are our neighbors. These are our friends in the community that have fallen between the cracks,” Burks said. “That was Dr. Tannehill’s vision (almost) 30 years ago, when this clinic was started, to help the people in our neighborhood that need help with medical care.”
Fagan said she didn’t know what to expect, since so many people were impacted financially by the pandemic. But she’s been encouraged by the overwhelming support from the community. Aside from the more than $15,000 raised through the online auction, the clinic also received almost $100,000 in donations from businesses and individuals in the area.
While the event and online auction were free, West, Fagan and Burks encouraged donating throughout the year to help fund the clinic’s mission. The clinic has a “DONATE: Adopt the Clinic” option available on https://tupelofreeclinic.org to donate, and Fagan said the clinic can always use professional volunteers, such as physicians, nurses and pharmacists, to help provide care.
“Without the support of the community, in both ways of volunteerism and financial support, we couldn’t fulfill our mission,” Fagan said.