Every Sunday, he brings humor to the hurting at a Fort Worth hospital

FORT WORTH -- With a red suit, a derby hat and a big smile, George Bettes takes pride in spreading good cheer at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Southwest Fort Worth.

He hands out cards identifying himself as "Doc Laughter."

The card proclaims "Laughter is My Name. Praying for Your Speedy Recovery is My Game" and calls attention to Proverbs 17:22, which states: A merry heart doeth good like medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones.

Bettes' merry heart has been helping heal broken spirits at the hospital for five years. He's also a gifted artist and draws get-well cards for the patients he visits.

"I love it when people feel good," said Bettes, 74, a retired Marine. "Laughter is some of the best medicine you can get. It clears your lungs out. It lowers blood pressure. It puts you in a happier state of mind."

He does it all on his own, inspired by fellow Christians who go out and help others. For instance, people at Wedgwood Baptist Church, where he is a member, and First Baptist Church of Burleson recently painted and re-roofed his house in south Fort Worth.

"Why shouldn't I help people, since I have received so much help?" he said.

Bettes goes to great lengths to get a laugh.

Sometimes he wears a colorful wide-brimmed hat that says "Party Animal."

For St. Patrick's Day, he donned a green leprechaun suit.

Bettes goes to the hospital each Sunday after church.

He finds out which patients most need a dose of good cheer.

"I feel this is what God called me to do," he said. "I don't consider myself anything special."

Jeanne King, a hospital technician, said Bettes tends to visit people whose relatives and friends don't come to see them.

"He has a lot of artistic ability and gives these elaborate cards to the patient," King said.

On a recent visit, he talked with a woman about her two Labrador dogs, then gave her a card picturing a romping canine and a message: "Someone at home sure misses you. Get well doggone quick."

Bettes got the idea to help at the hospital five years ago.

"My mother was in this hospital, and we didn't know whether she was going to live or die," he said. "They took such good care of her and just put their arms around me."

He added: "The real heroes are the people who work here."

Bettes, who is divorced and has two grown children, was born in Galveston and grew up in Fort Worth, studying commercial art at what is now Trimble Tech High School.

"I was always the class cutup," he said. "I enjoy people."

During his 20 years in the military, he was in aviation ordnance, dealing with ammunition, bombs and guided missiles.

He also volunteered his artistic talents, designing logos for aircraft and winning the Navy's contest to design a new emblem for an intelligence technician.

Bettes dishes out more than humor during his hospital visits. Sometimes he bakes coconut and chocolate pies for employees.

He greets staffers like old friends.

"You're looking good, kid," he told nurse Rebekah Brooks.

"We consider him family," she said.

He hugged Kim Knotts, one of the first nurses he met at the hospital.

Victoria Quay, a hospital technician, said Bettes lifts everyone's spirits when he strolls through the hospital wearing outlandish attire.

"He really helps people who are having a bad day," Quay said. "He always makes me smile."