When she makes the trip to Macon from her home in Warner Robins, Laura Holland often finds herself driving through her old neighborhood on Kingsley Drive.
The sight of the house brings back the memories, but the walnut tree in the front yard stirs them.
Somehow, it doesn’t look quite right without an American flag standing at attention at eye level. And a sign placed beneath it, conveying whatever was on her late father’s mind.
Bill Hunt was Macon’s original text messenger.
There weren’t many cellphones around when he died a week after the calendar rolled over to the new year in 1992.
But Bill didn’t need nimble thumbs and an unlimited data plan to get his message across. He tweeted the old-fashioned way.
He had a supportive wife, Nell, and an array of cardboard signs, often laminated to protect against the weather. He also had Laura to help him post the letters and numbers.
That tree bark had plenty of bark.
During the Iranian hostage crisis, when 52 Americans were held captive for 444 days from Nov. 4, 1979, to Jan. 20, 1981, he changed the sign daily to reflect the number of days in captivity. To express his gratitude for the role of Canada in rescuing the hostages, he began flying a Canadian flag on the tree next to the American flag.
He posted other signs making statements about national and international events. He decried the actions of the Soviet Union when a Korean jetliner was shot down in 1983, killing all 269 passengers aboard, including Georgia congressman Larry McDonald. Four years later, his signs showed support for Col. Oliver North.
The tree carried Bill’s sentiments on everything from the economy, AIDS, the drug situation and the homeless. They ushered messages of hope at Christmas and Easter. They welcomed his grandson home from Operation Desert Storm.
His final signs were rallies for American journalist Terry Anderson, who was the Associated Press bureau chief in Lebanon when he was taken hostage in 1986 and held captive for 2,454 days. Anderson was released on December 3, 1991, just five weeks before Bill died at age 80.
A sign was placed on the walnut tree after Bill’s funeral.
“So long, champ!’’ it read. “We’ll miss you!”
Laura chuckles when asked what kind of sign her dad might display in the final days of 2014.
“He wouldn’t have enough tree space,’’ she said.
The signs were sometimes political, although never in attack mode. He did not allow campaign signs to clutter his yard and never endorsed any candidates, although many of them coveted his support.
He was an elected official himself. He served as a state senator from 1962-64 and sat next to a young Jimmy Carter during the General Assembly. He later became the civil defense director for Bibb County.
Writing about a man who has been gone for almost a generation comes with the challenges of honoring his memory and introducing him to those who never knew his name.
Laura, of course, thinks about her father and his signs every day. She and her husband, Ron, fly a flag at their home in Warner Robins because of his legacy.
He was a staunch patriot who served in the Army in World War II and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. His grandfather was in the Spanish-American War. His son, Claude “Juddy’’ Hunt, was in Vietnam, and his grandson, William Chance Hunt, in Operation Desert Storm.
Bill was a three-time commander of Post No. 3 of the American Legion, and the street next to the headquarters on Thomaston Road is named in his honor. He also was involved with the VFW and USO.
He was a stickler on the rules for properly displaying the American flag. He treated it with dignity. Once, when a new McDonald’s restaurant opened at the corner of Northside and Riverside drives (now an Arby’s), he noticed the flag wasn’t being flown correctly, so he had a chat with the manager.
He was a prolific letter writer on the editorial page of The Macon Telegraph. He would hand-write his letters and have Laura type them on an old manual typewriter. When he finally bought an IBM Selectric model, there was great rejoicing at the Hunt house.
He often fired off letters to governors and presidents. Laura has a letter her father received from FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. He sent letters to publications such as Reader’s Digest, too.
He was a kind man, generous with his time and money. Many will remember him as the co-owner of Hunt-Ragan, the city’s first locally owned appliance store. It opened in 1958 and was a fixture on Poplar Street until 1989. When the city put in parking meters downtown, many merchants feared it would hurt their businesses. Hunt showed his appreciation to customers by giving away dimes to pay for parking.
He left his fingerprints across other parts of the city. He helped come up with the idea of turning Poplar Street into an Avenue of Flags, which led to Macon’s one-time designation as Flag City U.S.A. His civic efforts led to the placement of the eternal flame in front of City Hall.
We can also laud his efforts in helping preserve one of Macon’s great treasures, the Grand Opera House. Nell’s older sister was Patricia “Honeychile” Wilder, an international celebrity and actress. (She was briefly engaged to Alfred Bloomingdale before marrying an Austrian prince.)
Through his famous sister-in-law, Bill got to know comedian Bob Hope. He even had Hope’s private phone number written inside his phone book. In 1972, he called from the kitchen on Kingsley Drive -- yes, the house with the tree signs -- and asked for Hope’s help. A benefit performance was planned to raise funds and help the Macon Arts Council pay off debts for the restoration of the Grand Opera House.
Hope agreed to come to Macon, along with Honeychile and singer Vic Damone.
If we had a sign to hang in a tree in memory of Bill Hunt, we might need only eight letters and two words.
Contact Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org