Ed Grisamore

Woman reunited with McEvoy class ring after 50 years and 4,000 miles

You would think it would be difficult to lose a class ring.

After all, it is large metal and clunky, filled with letters, numbers, precious metal and a shining stone. It feels like a bowling ball wrapped around your finger.

But gravity has a way of depositing class rings beneath the layers of dirt fields and scattering them along the shores of sandy beaches, waiting to be rescued by metal detectors or retraced steps.

Those fortunate enough to be reunited with their owners all have stories to tell.

Here is one.

It’s about a reunion within a reunion, one that was 50 years and 4,000 miles in the making.

Ed Bissonette is a familiar name in the local automotive world. He was in the car business in Macon for 47 years.

Ed is one of those “31206”guys, the south Macon ZIP code that was like being in a cool fraternity of yesteryear. He graduated from A.R. Willingham High for Boys in 1968.

A decade later, he found himself serving on the committee for the school’s 10-year reunion with McEvoy, the neighboring girls high school up the hill.

Ed’s graduating class of about 250 had five African American students. And, as a member of the reunion committee, he spent considerable time and effort trying to track down one of his black classmates.

His name was Jimmy Stewart. How can you forget a name like that? It’s the actor who starred in the classic Christmas movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.’’

For many years, the classes of McEvoy and Willingham held their own reunions. But the names of those two schools existed for only 12 years (1958-70), so they began having combined reunions every three years for all the classes.

Ed has served on every reunion committee. And, for 40 years, he tried to track down Jimmy Stewart. Even when the internet came along, with the power of Facebook and other social media to locate people, he still came away empty-handed.

But he never gave up.

Two years ago, Ed went to work part-time for Clark Memorials.

“And that’s how this whole ring thing got started,’’ Ed said. “Because if I’m not there, this story doesn’t happen.’’

In the summer of 2018, a man came to the offices on Vineville Avenue looking for a marker for his grandfather’s grave. He was wearing a Vietnam veteran’s cap, and Ed struck up a conversation.

“I told him I had been in Vietnam, too, and we started sharing war stories,’’ Ed said. “Then I asked him the question I ask everybody I meet: Where did you go to high school?’’

The man told him he had attended Ballard-Hudson, the black high school on Anthony Road in Macon. Ed told him he was a graduate of Willingham.

“My brother went to Willingham,’’ the man said. “His name is Jimmy Stewart.’’

Ed couldn’t believe his ears. Stewart was living in California.

“I called and told him I had finally found him,’’ Ed said. “I invited him to the next three-year reunion that September.’’

A few days later, Ed received a text from Stewart, requesting his home mailing address. After a few more days, a package arrived. Ed opened it and found a McEvoy class ring from 1964, with the engraved initials “DLB” on the inside.

“I called to ask him for the story on the ring,’’ Ed said. “He said he and some of his buddies were playing touch football at Willingham in the summer of 1969. He found the ring in the grass. He said he had no idea what to do with it, and he was thinking I might be able to find the right person.’’

Ed took the ring to John Baker, a local goldsmith and fellow Willingham grad, to have it cleaned and polished.

He then got out his yearbook – they called them “annuals” back in those days. He was in the eighth grade in 1964, so he didn’t know many high school girls from McEvoy. He found a senior named Dona Leigh Bateman, with those initials.

He contacted the reunion chair from McEvoy’s Class of 1964, Gayla Nell Parrish, who told him Dona Leigh Bateman (now Dona Leigh Robertson), lived in Griffin.

He called, identified himself and asked: “Do you have your senior ring?”

“No,’’ she said.

“Well, I do,’’ he told her.

Dona was unable to attend the reunion, but she stayed in touch with Ed. He kept her ring in a drawer, waiting for the opportunity to present it to her in person.

That came on Sept. 10, when Dona joined a group of 38 Willingham guys at their monthly luncheon at Fincher’s Bar-B-Q on Houston Avenue.

It’s a small world, but you still can lose your ring in it.

Sometimes you get lucky, and it finds you.

Ed Grisamore teaches journalism at Stratford Academy in Macon. His column appears on Sundays in The Telegraph.