When Keith Bartlett, a Gainesville police officer, got called to check on a suspicious vehicle early Sunday afternoon, he quickly realized the car wasn’t there and headed back to the station.
He assumed it was a false call on an otherwise slow Christmas day shift patrolling the streets of Gainesville.
After arriving back at the station, though, Bartlett discovered the call was purposely pulling him away so some special visitors could arrive with a holiday surprise.
There in the department’s briefing room was country music hall of famer and local resident, Randy Travis, along with his wife Mary, his sons and Bartlett’s own wife and kids.
Bartlett knew the Travis family well after responding to a theft on their ranch a few years earlier. His family had even visited the superstar’s home before.
As they exchanged hugs, Randy, still recovering from a 3-year-old stroke, pointed to Keith’s son who was holding a surprise that nearly brought tears to the officer’s eyes: a new Gibson acoustic guitar.
The gift was far more than just an instrument for Bartlett.
On December 12, Bartlett was at home when his house caught fire. Suddenly, the officer was on the other side of the emergency calls as firefighters rushed to put the fire out.
His family all made it out safely, but their home was a complete loss.
Most of their possessions inside were lost, including Keith’s prized Gibson guitar.
Family members said he was an avid guitar player. He’d play in their local church services and spend many days strumming out songs.
When they pulled the guitar from the house, it was a charred mess and unfixable.
The community rallied behind the Bartletts, and Keith’s fellow law enforcement officers helped them find a temporary home while they work on a new one.
But Bartlett still didn’t have a guitar.
At least until the Travis family heard his story on the news and decided to help out, offering up some furniture and other items.
Mary said she’d seen the power of music throughout her husband’s career, but she’d mostly seen its healing effects in recent years after Randy’s stroke.
“I just know how important music is and what therapy it is, especially at a time like this,” Mary said.
So she called up a friend at Gibson who didn’t hesitate when they heard Keith’s story. They overnighted a brand new guitar, just like his old one, to North Texas.
Then the Travis family happily presented it to Bartlett in the middle of his Christmas shift.
“Surprised isn’t even the word for it,” Bartlett said. “These are amazing people.”
Randy even signed the guitar for Keith and spend some of the holiday with the Gainesville officers, while Keith picked away at his new guitar.