His name was Lowry Eugene Stripling, and everyone called him Uncle Ned. He may not have been kinfolk, but he was like family.
Mary Striplings father broke into the music business with a different moniker because he didnt want to embarrass his family if he failed.
Uncle Ned was never a flop. He became a legend. His name is still revered in music anthologies in this town. He was a foot-stomping piano player and a master showman.
Sixty years ago this fall, at 2:30 p.m. on the Sunday afternoon of Sept. 27, 1953, Uncle Ned and the Hayloft Jamboree made history when WMAZ went on the air with its first TV signal. As soon as the camera rolled, band members broke into the country song, Slowly by Webb Pierce.
It could be argued that Uncle Ned was Macons first television personality. Not everybody owned a TV in the days when the world was broadcast in black and white. But they still found a way to watch when he came on the air at noon.
His band performed nine hours each week in the WMAZ studio and another five hours on radio. Uncle Ned did live commercials and product endorsements on the air, rarely following the script. He was a salesman for everything from automobile loans to jewelry to collard greens.
He was a handsome man. Folks used to claim he looked like Tennessee Ernie Ford.
Mary Stripling begged to differ.
Clark Gable, she said. He looked like Clark Gable.
Mary is now a hairdresser at a retirement home in Savannah. Her father died on Oct. 18, 1958, long before he could ever live in a retirement home. He was 42 years old. It was six days before her 12th birthday.
He suffered a heart attack, his second in a years time, while performing at a dance in Cochran. He was rushed to the hospital in Hawkinsville but did not live to see the sun come up. They buried him with his boots on at Riverside Cemetery.
Every time I go back to Macon, it astounds me how many people remember him, Mary said. They are still loyal to his memory.
When Riverside Cemetery hosts its upcoming Spirits in October, Uncle Ned will be among those portrayed in the character enactments. Bartow Irby and Matthew Sims will take turns in the role of Uncle Ned and a band called the Haylofters.
The first performance will be on Friday, Oct. 18, which marks the 55th anniversary of Uncle Neds death. The popular annual event includes tours of the historic cemetery, Halloween movies and ghost tours of downtown. It will be held Oct. 18-19 and Oct. 24-27.
Uncle Ned was a larger-than-life character, so its almost hard to believe he has been gone for almost two generations. If he were still alive, he would turn 98 the week before Christmas.
He was born in Jones County and lived in Macon most of his life. He formed his first band when he was a student at Lanier High School. He moved to Atlanta in 1937 to appear on WSB radios Cross Roads Follies as Uncle Ned and the Texas Wranglers. After being discharged from the Army, he returned to Macon, joined the staff of WMAZ radio and had a daily radio show with the Hayloft Jamboree for 18 years.
He traveled the back roads in yellow Buicks and blue Cadillacs. The mention of his name would fill music halls, auditoriums, roller rinks and armories in small towns across Middle Georgia. He would sometimes hop on his houseboat and float down the Ocmulgee. He also owned a Piper Cub airplane, so he could go practically anywhere by land, water or air.
Everybody loved him, said Mary. When he played at square dances, a kajillion people showed up.
Uncle Ned would never take his band to smoke-filled juke joints and honky-tonks, where the booze flowed to the sounds of Send Me the Pillow that You Dream On by Hank Locklin, that famed hillbilly from the Grand Ole Opry.
He married his wife, Lois, in 1934. They eloped to Jeffersonville. Mary was born in 1946, eight years after her brother, the late L.E. Stripling Jr., and six years after her sister, Sally Greene, who now lives in Warner Robins.
When Mary was a baby, a country music star stopped by to visit at Uncle Neds home on Hillcrest Avenue. The man rocked Mary to sleep in a rocking chair. His name was Hank Williams Sr.
Mary said her parents named her Mary Evelyn after the female doctor, Mary Evelyn Swilling, who delivered her. When she was 5, her daddy announced that he was going to start calling her Tex after the famous cowboy, Tex Ritter. She became his sidekick.
There were so many sides to Uncle Ned that folks practically needed a compass to keep up with him.
He lived his life to the fullest every day, she said. He was a Sagittarius. He was boisterous. Ive never met a more charismatic man.
He loved to fly, with more than a touch of daredevil in his spirit. He would sometimes head to Herbert Smart Airport (now called Macon Downtown Airport) with another pilot, where they would cut the planes engine while in the air, and Uncle Ned would crawl out on the wing.
People would pay money to see if Uncle Ned was going to fall to his death, Mary said.
He also was a humanitarian. People would go by his house and ask for help. One night, a man and his sick wife knocked on Uncle Neds door, and he gave them a ride to the hospital.
He worked tirelessly on campaigns for the March of Dimes. After he died, Lois received letters from school principals who wanted her to know her husband had regularly made donations to help poor children buy milk in the school cafeteria.
He loved people.
And they loved him back.
At his funeral, the Rev. Jimmy Waters said if Uncle Ned had ever needed money, the country people of Middle Georgia would have sold their cows to give it to him.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.