Pat Donnelly moved to Macon in 1968, so she’s seen a lot of changes in the 50 years she has been here.
She can remember the city’s claim to fame long before it was hailed as the cherry blossom capital of the universe.
It once was known as Flag City USA.
Former Mayor Ronnie Thompson made the proclamation on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 1970. Machine Gun Ronnie could look out his window at City Hall and see the “Avenue of Flags.’’ There were 54 of them waving in the breeze across three blocks of Poplar Street.
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They weren’t run up the flagpoles for show in the days between Flag Day, on June 14, and the Fourth of July. They were permanent residents.
Macon no longer wears the Flag City name tag. The aging, unsightly poles were chased away by the urban redesign of Poplar.
But Pat now can stand in her driveway and admire her own Avenue of Flags.
Over the past four years, she has given away dozens to the residents of The Gables at Wolf Creek, making the North Macon retirement community among the reddest, whitest and bluest neighborhoods in these parts.
“It makes me proud to have been a part of reminding people to fly the flag,’’ she said. “Everything is so lovely when the flags are flying. It’s Norman Rockwell-perfect.’’
The Old Glories provide a picturesque backdrop along the rows of manicured lawns, beautiful flower beds and stately crepe myrtles. There’s something about a flag that makes a house look complete … like a rocking chair or swing on the porch.
On a morning walk around the circle a few weeks ago, Pat counted 46 flags standing at attention in the gated community of 82 homes.
Along the stretch of houses where she lives, every porch column has a flag mounted. Even the maintenance cart has two small American flags attached to the roof.
Pat figures she might be able to get a more accurate flag count, since she might have missed a few.
Some neighbors follow the strict protocol of flag etiquette, removing them when they’re tattered or moving them inside in the event of inclement weather.
Pat became a resident at the Gables in December 2006 with her husband, the late Richard “Dick” Donnelly, a retired Navy rear admiral. He traveled the world during his 35-year military career. He died in May 2014.
She grew up in south Florida, the daughter of a World War II veteran. Her father, Vincent Jones, fought in the Battle of the Bulge.
“As a child, I remember going to veteran parades, when the poppies were given away,’’ she said. “I always have had a lot of admiration for the military. When I married Dick, he revitalized my patriotism and fervor for this country.’’
A few months after her husband died, Pat began her quiet campaign to honor him.
She started purchasing flag kits for residents.
She has offered them to her neighbors, contributed them as door prizes at covered-dish suppers and presented them to new residents as house-warming gifts.
“A lot of times, when someone moves in, I will knock on their door or see them at a social event and ask if I can give them a flag in my husband’s memory,’’ she said. “Dick would love this. He would be so tickled about everybody flying the flag.’’
Of course, it’s rare for someone of her generation to turn down the opportunity to show their stars and stripes. They were raised to be flag-raisers.
Those colors mean something.
They are the ties that bind.
“It’s how we all grew up,’’ she said, “flying the flag.’’
At the Gables, every day may not be the Fourth of July, but it’s a star-spangled one.
Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon and is the author of nine books. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.