This week marks the ninth anniversary of the loss of our oldest grandson, Zack Wansley. And, yes, it hurts as much today as on the day he collapsed and died while training for a marathon.
Zack was special. He was a true scholar-athlete. He was president of just about every significant organization in his high school. He won the Journal Cup as his school’s Outstanding Senior. Zack was proof that one could get a quality public school education if willing to work for it. He is one reason that I am so hawkish on public education and remain intractable regarding those politicians who would rather cut-and-run from what ails our public schools rather than try to fix the problems. I saw what Zack accomplished in the classroom and know it can be done.
Zack was also an unrepentant and unapologetic Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket in a family of Georgia Bulldogs. He was a Tech man through and through and, as usual, he was excelling academically when his life was cut short.
As this week approached, I asked myself how could I best honor his memory. I could wallow in self-pity or I could try to do something that would please the dickens out of him; something upbeat and more in keeping with his sunny personality. Zack didn’t do moping. He enjoyed every minute of his life and expected everyone else to do so, as well.
So, I thought what if his grandfather, himself an unrepentant and unapologetic Georgia Bulldog, invited a couple of Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets to his home to talk about Zack and about his beloved school? Talk about the ultimate sacrifice. I felt Zack would be impressed that his grandfather loved him so much that he would endure a couple of hours of listening to Tech talk. Greater love hath no grandfather.
Guy Arledge was a colleague of mine at BellSouth and a 1971 graduate of Georgia Tech. One of his claims to fame — other than surviving my mercurial management style — was the creation and construction of a toy model of the Ramblin’ Wreck automobile and giving the idea to the Georgia Tech Alumni Association, which hadn’t thought of it but has since sold tens of thousands of the replicas. Typical of Guy Arledge, he didn’t demand a cut of the proceeds. He just thought it was the right thing to do because he loves his alma mater.
Rep. Bert Reeves, a 2000 graduate of Georgia Tech, is an attorney and a second-term member of the Legislature, representing the Marietta area. I got to know him after his herculean effort to update Georgia’s arcane adoption laws only to see his good works high-jacked at the last minute by opponents of same-sex marriages.
In our conversations, I was impressed with his knowledge and passion for the subject and his commitment to improve our state’s adoption processes. I found him a serious and button-downed young man who gives politics a good name.
What I didn’t know is there was another Bert Reeves. This one went by the name of Buzz, the Georgia Tech mascot, and he was anything but serious and button-downed. “My job as mascot was to push the envelope,” he said, “and sometimes I pushed it a bit too far.” Nonetheless, his antics got him named an All-American mascot.
He regaled us with stories about his experiences as Buzz, some of which can’t be repeated (except when he totally — and accidentally — disrupted a live ESPN pregame show and when he cold-cocked another team’s mascot at halftime, a blowhard Yankee who had previously derided him and referred to him as Forrest Gump.)
Arledge and Reeves had never met until they showed up at my house. Even though they graduated in different decades, their experiences were remarkably similar — professors who were to become great influences in their lives, classroom challenges they weren’t sure they would survive but did, and the satisfaction they feel from having attained their degree from Georgia Tech.
As hard as it is to admit, it was a fun session with a lot of stories and a lot of laughs. It was the perfect way to honor the memory of Zachary Earl Wansley. There is no doubt he was listening in that day and beaming all over.
As they were leaving, I felt it my ethical duty to inform them that I had taken copious notes — with a red-and-black UGA pencil. I can assure you that Zack would have expected no less from his grandfather.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org.