I know for many, 2016 was a tough year. It was for me, too, but I’m not ready to let go. I want to twirl it around in my wine glass of memories a while longer and inhale those still sweet aromas.
Special voices from 2016 still echo. Who could ever forget Barbara Shaheen? She would call me up when her son Chuck was mayor of Warner Robins and give me a little hell, but she couldn’t do it without a smile. I’d love to catch some of that hell now. Hard to believe it has been a year since her death.
I was in church on a Sunday morning in February when my neighbor, Jessie Johnson, was cleaning his pool. He couldn’t swim; neither could his wife, Cheryl, but their pool was immaculate, and while they found him in the water, that wasn’t what took his life. We didn’t talk much, but his family was one of a core group who had lived in our subdivision for more than 20 years.
March was real tough. Giles O’Neal, one of the finest men I have ever had the pleasure to know left this earthly realm. He knew a lot about a lot of things and would willingly share his knowledge with all. He enjoyed seeming irascible, but he was just a fearless teddy bear. I was always afraid he would go off and climb a mountain somewhere — barefooted.
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Joe Neel passed in the middle of the month. He and I had a love-hate relationship, but that was not uncommon for those who knew him. At times he would stop by my office unannounced — in the uniform that still fit (Damn him) — and I’d think, “Oh no, how long is this going to take?” But he would tell a quick story or two, always interesting — sometimes too revealing — and move on.
Wrapping up March was the passing of Frank Dean Martin III. He had worked in radio around these parts as long as I have been in Macon and way before. I first met him when he worked at Fort Valley State College back in the 1980s. He ended up selling gospel radio time for WDDO, the station that brought me to Macon almost 35 years ago. Frank could tell a story — several of them. He had the gift of gab, but in reality, he had that and more. I don’t think there’s a soul who knew him who doesn’t miss him.
Not wanting Frank Dean to be lonely in heaven — or to spare the other angels from hearing all of his stories— in April, Oscar Leverette unexpectedly left us. I know I’m sounding redundant, but Oscar was a great broadcast engineer and a great guy to boot, and he was in the midst of bringing real radio back to Middle Georgia at Fox 94.7.
Lonzy Edwards also left us in April. In a year of shocks, his death caught most everyone, except him, by surprise. When he dropped out of the mayor’s race, that should have been a big clue. We used to have weekly debates on a variety of issues (he always thought he won). He had a great brain and he loved Hancock County, his home, and he let everyone know it.
Two families that had already suffered 2016 losses would be hit again in November. Tom Bass was like Giles, you got smarter just standing next to him. Both will be missed from our Palaver Club. The other family was WDDO. Willie Collins, the longtime gospel announcer at the station passed on shortly after the station left the airways. Willie left life due to ill health, the station? I won’t speculate what finally brought on its demise.
And one final reason I wish I could halt the world’s rotation and rewind 2016, is the passing of Leontine Espy in December. Of her many talents the one I appreciated most was her encouraging spirit. You could see it in everything she touched. If Mrs. Espy said you could do it, you could do it, because she believed you could do it.