June 1, 2023

America needs to bring back the draft


     Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation should be required reading for every high school student in America.

      If you don’t know which generation is the “greatest,” I concur with the famed broadcaster who gave his answer. He wrote, “They came of age during the Great Depression and Second World War and went on to build modern America—men and women whose everyday lives of duty, honor, achievement and courage gave us the world we have today.”                                                                                                                    

      Did you take time on Memorial Day to watch Old Glory flutter in the breeze and realize its significance?

      The estimated headcount of people living inside America's borders surpasses 330 million. If you asked, ''What is Old Glory?" how many “duhs” would you get? If you asked people to explain the significance of Memorial Day, how many would shrug their shoulders?  

      The sad answer is that too many have never acknowledged the sacrifices of the men and women who died to preserve our freedoms.

      Read the obituaries.

Broadcast journalist Tom Brokaw’s 

book, in my opinion, should 

be required reading for every 

American high school student.

      You’ll see that the men and women described by Brokaw are disappearing. As they die, we need to be asking: ''Who will take their places?"

      As underscored in The Greatest Generation, those Americans fought to keep Old Glory waving, as well as keeping our tongues speaking English rather than German or Japanese.

      Today—in the tradition of their parents and grandparents—we have men and women spilling their blood to keep us safe. Our gratitude should be immense. Instead, a malignant sense of entitlement is growing. Too many are declaring, “America owes me!” That attitude spells trouble. Every generation is obligated to give of themselves if we are to keep our nation free and strong.

      If my grandmother were alive, she'd be 123. And she'd say, "We've got some folks that need a knot yanked in their tail."

      Figuratively, that's what we need.

      I recommend bringing back the draft in two forms: military and community service. Those opting to be freedom fighters would serve two years. Nonmilitary personnel’s commitment would be 12 months. Boot camp would be an enriching experience for every able-bodied young person. Basic training would build discipline and stamina, while adding needed structure to too many young lives adrift.

      Most of the draftees would be nonmilitary. Assignments could include cleaning up urban blight, rebuilding flood and tornado disaster areas, volunteering in hospitals, or restoring national parks. College isn’t for everyone, but we can help each generation gain skills that will improve employability, which leads to productivity. For those who have dropped out of school, provide a path for them to earn a G.E.D. And for those who are academically capable, let them mentor struggling students. The possibilities are unlimited.

      But can America afford this?

      We can, if we realign our priorities and federal spending.

      Here's just one example: Look at the explosive growth of crime-fighting and the cost of prisons. We will always need steel bars and guards, but why not put more investment into keeping our young out of jail? I think dispensing hope—through education—is a powerful key in solving unacceptable issues. Complex problems don’t get solved easily, but I believe a draft-type program could help address many of America’s woes.

      On Memorial Day, I saw a giant Old Glory fluttering atop a highway construction crane on U.S. 1.

      That got me to thinking, again.    

      Who will take the place of the “greatest generation?”








May 25, 2023

High rent opens door to 56 years of friendship


Wearing a starched white uniform and toting bedpans in 1967, I learned from the nuns of St. Marys Hospital how to make $1 million. All I had to do was work 1 million hours. By the time I was a senior at UGA, I discovered how to cut that requirement in half. My new job paid double—$2 per hour. Plus, I got to switch my uniform to blue jeans and boots.

A few times a year, I stop by and talk to my old bosses, Tom and Peggy Collins. We reminisce about the first time we met, on the gravel lot where Bernstein Funeral Home now stands on the Atlanta Highway.

Two months earlier, I had just completed my freshman year, and I was destined to live in the fraternity house. Over a pot-roast-potatoes-carrots-and-cornbread Sunday lunch, Mother asked, “Again, where you are going to live this fall?” She frowned, “You’ll never get any studying done in the fraternity house.”

Then she turned her gaze to Big Dink. “I think you should take him to Athens and find an apartment,” she said. Before sunup the next morning, we were rolling up Highway 15. Our first stop was Tara Apartments on Hancock Avenue.

That took less than 15 minutes. When my dad heard $200 per month, he quizzed, “Have you ever been in one of those mobile homes?” While I was shaking my head, he announced, “I haven’t, either, so let’s go.”

Driving out the Atlanta Highway, we wheeled into the first dealer we saw—Flamingo. With his Georgia Tech linebacker’s grip, Tom Collins shook our hands. Within minutes, we were walking through a three-bedroom home. Big Dink squinted and said, “This is kind of big. You have anything smaller?”


Peggy, Tom’s wife, started filling out paperwork on my new bachelor’s pad—a 12-foot-by-40-foot two-bedroom New Moon, $2,995 plus $125 for a beige GE washer and sales tax. Commercial Credit extended a loan. My payments of $61.83 started in 45 days.

Big Dink asked Tom to pick a good, safe place to park my purchase. When I arrived a few weeks later, I was living in Seagraves Mobile Home Park, behind what is now the Waffle House on Oconee Street.

On the drive back to Jesup, my dad asked, “Now, don’t you have a fraternity brother who would like to rent that spare bedroom?” One phone call landed a $60 per month tenant who split the utilities expense. I paid the $15 monthly lot fee.

Fast-forward a couple of years. I was a senior in college and a fresh-from-the-altar groom. My new roommate balked at paying rent, so I had to get a better-paying job. Flamingo came to my rescue, again. Tom called it a maintenance apprentice. I called it being a flunky, but a $2-per-hour godsend. On Sundays, he let me sell on commission.

But the other six days, I was assembling furniture, mowing grass and swabbing out repossessed houses. Besides keeping Hamburger Helper on our plates, the job had other benefits. The Collins family took an interest in me, and Tom introduced me to master motivator Earl Nightingale. As I skinned my knuckles, I listened to Earl on tape. I can still hear that deep voice urging me to pursue my goals.

UGA graduation came, and I didn’t get to stick around for the rest of my work-500,000-hours-make-a-million plan.

But when I drove away from Flamingo, I knew I would be coming back—again and again.

You never want to leave good friends.

Thanks, Tom and Peggy.








May 18, 2023

Taking a 1958 stroll in my hometown


     Walking is good for you, so I laced up my PF Flyers and scooted out the door. Dogwoods and azaleas in Georgia Whaley’s front yard were quivering in the cool breeze, so I zipped my jacket.

On South West Broad, I passed Paul Salter and Scotty Carswell’s John Deere dealership and peeped into A&P. Marty Fender and his dad, Kinky, were unboxing bananas. Across the alley, Junior Burns was piling plumbing tools in his pickup. His folks, Harry and Blanche, were inside the shop, getting ready for their first customer.

     With the hint of warmer weather, Roy Breen had pulled on his walking shorts and knee-length black socks to wear with his high-top shoes. Arranging hardware on the sidewalk, he waved.

     Service Gas was jumping, too. Olin and Ernest Harper were wondering whether James had ordered enough stoves for cooking Wayne County’s garden vegetables. Mort and Goldie Mooney were bustling inside Mooney’s Department Store. And if Bob Harrison wasn’t politicking, he would soon be behind his mahogany desk at First Federal Savings and Loan on the corner—across from the railroad freight depot.

     As I turned the corner onto Cherry Street, there was another entrance to Mooney’s. Next to it was the nerve center of downtown—Jack’s Barber Shop, one of the first businesses to get air conditioning. As a boy, I was fascinated with the chatter between barbers Jack Jackson, Ralph Grantham, Herbert Dent and their customers

     Next door, I paused to look into Yeomans’ Shoe Store. I was always fascinated when Herman Yeomans or Nubbin Keith X-rayed my feet to see whether my toes had growing room.

     Next, I cupped my hands to peer into a dark American National Bank. George Parrish, James Dent, Carey Brannen and Lonnie O’Quinn were probably sipping coffee with W.Y. and Warren Smith at Smith’s Drug Store, across the alley.

     Somebody told me that Capp Cappelmann had an insurance office on the second story of the old Ingleside Hotel. I didn’t climb the stairs, but I did pause at Knight’s Drug Store. Ernest and Avie Knight also sold Cherry Cokes to barefoot boys. From church, I knew pharmacist Carey Jones.

     Beside Smith’s was Flowers Jewelers. As kids, Ben Flowers and my dad played kick-the-can on Orange Street, where the pavement stopped at Fourth Street. In the next narrow storefront was Paul’s Men’s Shop.

     Perhaps the most popular spot on Cherry Street was the Strand Theater. It was too early for Gladys Riggins to be in the ticket booth. Proprietor Ward Riggins and his son, Ward Jr., were likely at Riggins Oil, looking over the day’s delivery list. And it wouldn’t be long before billiard balls would be clicking, upstairs in Elmer’s Pool Room. My dad warned, “Stay out of there.”       

     Surprisingly, I did.

     But I was a regular at Carter’s 5 & 10. Pete and Sarah Carter, along with Roy and Geneva Henderson, collected tons of nickels from candy-craving kids like me. We exited with tiny paper sacks of sweets, leaving our coins and fingerprints on their glass display cases.

     The establishments on the corner would become a fashion mecca for my generation’s teenagers. Eventually, I would wear out the door hinges of Jimmy Sullivan and T.G. Ritch’s S&R Men’s Shop. By the time I was shaving, I’d work for Jimmy Sullivan. And I would treasure my friendship with his wife, Vonice, who was queen of Cherry Street, holding forth in her ladies’ store, Sullivan’s. I was born in her father’s hospital across the street.

     Hanging a left on Macon Street, I strolled by city hall and spoke to Jack Cowart at Brooks Auto Parts. Then, I passed Leslie Lloyd’s plumbing shop, Skeet Daniel’s Firestone, the bus station, Ben Park’s Modern Dry Cleaners and the offices of Dr. Lanier Harrell and Dr. Woodrow Yeomans. At the two-storied Victorian Milikin home, I hooked another left.

     Nodding good morning to Winton Dobbs swinging on his porch, I scampered up the steps at 111 West Orange—NeSmith Funeral Home.

     Almost all of the people and the places have vanished—except in my memories.

     But that’s where I enjoy taking an occasional walk to keep me grounded “at home.”

(Note: A version of this column was first published on April 11, 2012. On May 11, 2023, it was a part of my talk to the Wayne County Historical Society.)








The ‘Boys’ are back together


             In human years, Andy was 105.

             The silver-haired schnauzer was 22 pounds of energy and joy.

For 15 years, Andy knew he was special. Spoiled, perhaps, but special.

Andy came in a package with his charcoal-gray brother, Amos.

I went to buy a single pup but came home with two. They answered to their names, but I could say “Boys,” and their ears lifted. “Boys, load up!” put them into jackrabbit mode. They could spring waist-high into my pickup truck. They loved going to the office—or anywhere—with me.

I would snap my fingers, and they knew what that meant. Andy would leap into his leather wingchair in my office, and Amos would sail into his chair. They’d curl up and snooze for four hours, occasionally lifting their heads to make sure I was still behind my desk. But if I stood up and put on my suit coat or they heard the jingle of my computer shutting down, the schnauzer brothers were on full alert.

If a dog is truly a man’s best friend, I had two loyal four-legged buddies. Pam declared they could hear my truck before I ever turned in the gate. Amos and Andy didn’t wear watches, but they knew their routines. If I was reading a book, watching TV or pecking on my laptop, they were likely curled up by or on my feet.

But at 9:30 in the evening, they’d look up as if to say, “All right, you know it’s time for our walk.” When they were satisfied that I had acknowledged them, they trotted over to the door.

Amos died two years ago, just the way I would prefer. One morning he didn’t wake up.

Andy lived longer but flirted with death several times. The first close call was in 2012. The “Boys” and I were in Jesup. Andy had apparently gulped down something very bad, and it was hammering his liver. My longtime friend and veterinarian, Dr. Beau Hall, and his partner, Dr. David Barwick, were doing everything they could, but it was clear that Andy was in trouble, deep trouble. They advised that I might want to hurry back to Athens to the University of Georgia’s veterinarian hospital. However, Andy might not live through the four-hour trip.

There were three options: Stay, go to UGA or euthanasia.

Suddenly, David’s dad, Wallace Barwick, appeared. Wallace sensed the seriousness of the moment, and he asked, “Would you mind if I prayed over Andy?” I nodded, and we bowed our heads as Wallace laid his hands on Andy and talked to God. That resolved my dilemma on Day 3 of the crisis. Andy was staying. Day 4 showed hope. And by Day 14, Andy was ready to leap into my truck and head home.

A few years later, Andy was the very first emergency patient at UGA’s new $98 million veterinarian hospital. Again, he flirted with death but bounced back. The last several months were rugged for my silver-haired friend. He had long since given up on jumping in my truck or even my lap. Andy was feeling every bit of his 105 “human years.” He was having trouble walking. If he fell, Andy couldn’t get up. He was losing his vision.

His favorite pastime was sleeping, preferably in my lap with his head on my arm. And then Andy’s plumbing went awry. After an “accident,” he’d look at you as if to say, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.”

Andy had been a proud dog. On a leash, he’d prance as if he was competing in the Westminster. Trips to the vet provided no hope. The time had come.

The comforting thought is that Amos and Andy are back together, buried by the black-board fence, on a hill, in the pasture.

When I drive by—on the way to the mule barn—I can say, “Hey, Boys.”

And smile.








May 11, 2023

Remembering Lauree Surrency Hires, grand matriarch of 101


            Mother’s Day will be different this year in the Oglethorpe community.

            The 98-year-old grand matriarch of the Hires family won’t be at the table for Sunday’s traditional celebration.

            If ever there was an obedient servant of God, it was the youngest daughter of Terrell and Bessie Surrency.

            Lauree Surrency took God’s word to heart when He said, in Genesis, “Go forth and multiply.” She and Robie Hires were married for 72 years, until he died in 2015. Together, Lauree and Robie reared seven children. The seven—Jerry, Tootsie, Alma, Robyn, Rita, Fain and Herschell—gave their parents 20 grandchildren. Those twenty presented 44 great-grandchildren. And by the time Lauree left for Heaven to join Robie, she had rocked 30 great-great-grandchildren.

Surely God smiled when He tallied the count: 101.

I’d say that was being obedient.


I knew Lauree’s brothers, Frank, Griffin and Tyler, but I knew the Surrency sisters best. It wasn’t Christmas at my parents’ house unless Carobeth Surrency Highsmith delivered a bounty of her prized divinity. How many meals did she serve hungry patrons at the Kiwi? And then there was Nanelle Surrency Bacon. She and her husband, the Rev. James E., as educators, did all they could—and more—to put me on a solid path from boyhood to manhood. They made sure that I knew that they believed in me. I was honored to be asked to deliver both of their eulogies.

On May 3, I was honored, again, when Lauree’s children asked me to pay a final tribute to their mom as she was laid to rest by their dad. It was a private, family interment, but the crowd wasn’t small. Remember, 101, not counting spouses, cousins, nieces and nephews.

And me.

Why was I there?

You must go back to 1964.

With a brand-new driver’s license and my dad’s brand-new teal-blue Buick, I pulled into the yard of a weathered farmhouse in the Oglethorpe Community. When I knocked, the screen door creaked open. Standing there was a black-haired 2-year-old, who said, “I’m Herschell. What’s your name?” I introduced myself and handed him a pack of Juicy Fruit gum. And for 59 years and umpteen dozen packs of Juicy Fruit, we’ve been buddies.

Oh, yes, a striking blonde joined us on the porch, too. Her birth certificate lists Yolanda as her name, but everyone calls her “Tootsie.” Our courtship was brief. She went off to college, and I had another year of high school. But—as they say—the Hires family “took me in.” And our friendship will endure as long as we live.

Lauree and I had a special connection. She loved the tupelo honey from our swamp. Every time we talked, she never failed to say, “I’m praying for you.” And when Lauree went to UGA, in 2019, to talk about the Surrency sisters’ welding on Liberty ships—in the Brunswick shipyard—during World War II, I’ve never seen her beam so brightly. That night, Lauree received the adoration of a rock star.

Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton sang, “You can’t make old friends.”

No, you can’t.

If you were at Altamaha Baptist Church for Lauree’s service and the meal thereafter, you were served a heaping portion of Americana. You witnessed what is right with this nation of ours. Nephews Ed and Will Bacon, both highly acclaimed ministers, recounted Lauree’s life story to perfection. Their mom and two aunts were real-life Rosie the Riveters of the Greatest Generation. Kevin Maggiore, cinematographer of Golden Isles at War paid acclaim to Lauree and Carobeth for their cameo roles in the documentary. Greg Beck sang and made the grand piano sound its grandest. Singing “It Is Well With My Soul,” great-granddaughter Carson Richey—accompanied by her mother, Dallas Copeland Richey—lifted the congregation’s spirits at the conclusion. And then came the massive spread of country cooking.

Indeed, I was blessed just to be there and witness the loving way to celebrate the 98 years of one of God’s humble servants.

Following my remarks, her seven children gathered around their mother’s grave and sang “I’ll Fly Away.”

Lauree Surrency Hires won’t be at the family’s table on Mother’s Day, but her spirit still reigns in the Oglethorpe community.

And, Tootsie, remember what cousin Ed said?

All generations must move up a row.

That means you are now the grand matriarch of all 101.

And surely more on the way.








May 9, 2023

A few secrets to long-lasting relationships


The hardest ship to keep afloat is a “partnership.”

            If marriage isn’t a partnership, I don’t know what is.

            Surely my parents quarreled during their 52 years of marriage, but I never witnessed anything close to raised voices.

            I remember reading an interview with Ruth Graham, wife of the evangelist Billy Graham. The reporter asked, “How is it being married to one of the most famous men in the world?”

            “Oh, it’s wonderful.”

            “But don’t you ever have disagreements?”

            “Sure. All couples disagree from time to time.”

            “Have you ever considered divorce?”

            “Heavens, no, but murder, yes!”


            It helps to grease the fussy times.


            Don Perno, who was my longtime Athens formal-wear haberdasher, always had an Italian joke. He loved having a laugh on his fellow Italians. Here’s what Don told me:

            During the weekly seminar for husbands at St. Peter’s Catholic Church, the priest asked Giuseppe to report his secret to staying married to the same woman for 50 years.

            Giuseppe replied, “Well, I have tried to treat her very nice. I spend a lot of money on her. For our 25th wedding anniversary, I took her to Italy.”

            His priest said, “Giuseppe, you are an inspiration to other husbands. Please tell us what you are going to do for your wife on your 50th anniversary.”

            With a big grin, Giuseppe said, “I am going back to pick her up.”

            I can hear Don laughing now.

            For a little religious balance, I share one from my church, the Baptists.

            The preacher’s sermon was on forgiveness. And he forgot evangelist Billy Sunday’s advice, “Very few souls are won after 20 minutes.”

            After 30 minutes of bearing down on forgiveness, the preacher asked people in the congregation to raise their hand if they had an enemy whom they wanted to forgive.

            Three hundred hands shot skyward. The preacher noted the hands and nodded. But he noticed that Mrs. Gladys, sitting on the back row, had kept her hands in her lap.

            A few more scriptures were read.

            And then he asked the question with a different twist.

            “How many of you have an enemy who you hope will forgive you?”

            Everyone raised a hand, except Mrs. Gladys.

            Surveying the crowd, he said, “OK, lower your hands.”

            “Mrs. Gladys, I have asked everyone to raise his or her hand if they had anyone they wanted to forgive or vice versa. Both times, you didn’t raise your hand.”

            Mrs. Gladys nodded.

            “Well then, Mrs. Gladys, if you’ve lived 93 years and you don’t have any enemies you want to forgive or any enemies from whom you seek forgiveness, I believe you have a better sermon than the one that I just preached.”

            Mrs. Gladys smiled.

            “Mrs. Gladys, would you mind coming to the pulpit and sharing your testimony?”

            Mrs. Gladys reached for her walker.

            Everyone waited as the matriarch of the church crept toward the rostrum. Several deacons helped her ascend the platform.

            “Now, Mrs. Gladys, please tell us how you have managed this relationship miracle.”

            With a quick glance to Heaven and a devilish smirk, she said, “I have outlived all the old biddies.”








Born with only two speeds is blessing and curse

Hearing “no” can do one of two things. The two-letter word can discourage you or encourage you.

            Over my almost 75 years, positive reactions to negative rejections have been a cornerstone of my life.  That’s why I’ve decided to update my 2009 version of Thank you for telling me NO! The book should be available by late summer.

There is one very important “no” exception.  If it’s a situation where country artist Lori Morgan sings, “What part of no don’t you understand?” that “no” is an absolute “No!”

            Otherwise, I am with Robert Rider, who retired from our company as one of our best-ever sales leaders. Robert said, “Unless you hear no six times, you aren’t selling.  You are just taking orders.”

            I was born with only two speeds: wide-open and off.  That’s a blessing and a curse. There’s so much that I want to do.  I remember the first time that I went down the line at Morrison’s Cafeteria in Savannah.  I had never seen so much food. I wanted one of everything, except the liver.  As they say, “my eyes were bigger than my stomach.”  And for sure bigger than my wallet.

            But that was just me.

            As a kid, I grew up in town on a quarter-acre lot, in an apartment in the back of NeSmith Funeral Home.  My country friends—Joe Phelps and Steve Strickland—had go-carts.  Oh, how I wanted one, too.  There were two good reasons I didn’t get one. My parents couldn’t afford to buy it, and there wasn’t a safe place to ride it.

            Other than a red Schwinn bike, the only wheeled “fun” that I had to play with was Big Dink’s wheelbarrow. I’d put a buddy in the bucket, and off we’d go, up and down the sidewalks of Orange Street. But one buddy wasn’t enough.  I wanted the heaviest load I could handle, so Joe and Steve would climb in.

            Looking back, I guess that silly example explains how I’ve lived my life—loaded and full of challenges.

            When Pam and I were selected for Leadership Georgia’s Class of 1983, its adviser, Dr. J.W. Fanning, became a member of my personal board of directors.  He replaced the “grandfather” whose nurturing and wisdom I never had the privilege of enjoying.  When he learned that I had mules, well, we bonded even more.  Born in 1905, he grew up plowing his dad’s mules, Buck and Tag. Dr. Fanning loved feeding apples to my mammoth mules, Ruby and Rose. 

            When he was in a pensive mood, Dr. Fanning would muse about Neil Armstrong’s walking on the moon and something brand-new—the internet.  “There’s so much that I don’t understand,” he’d say, “but I understand these mules.”  My friend understood how to give sage advice, too.  His mantra was “May you stay alive as long as you live.”  He walked his talk. At 92, with his Sunday school book spread on his chest, Dr. Fanning went to eternal sleep, studying to teach his next morning’s class.

            Staying alive as long as I live.

            That’s what I aim to do, too.

            Well-meaning friends warn, “Slow down.”

            I tease, “Thanks. But if I slow down, old age might catch me.”

            As I say that, I have an image of another trusted adviser, the late Pat Pattillo, who would say—when we were riding horses on his Costa Rica ranch—“Ride hard or eat my dust.” Pat and J.W. Fanning were co-founders of Leadership Georgia.

            In his syrupy Wilkes County drawl, Dr. Fanning advised, “Only ‘wurds’ [words] live forever.”

            That’s another reason I am writing this book.

            When she was about my age, Mother would say, “I have more days behind me than ahead of me.”

            That’s where I am.

            And here’s the essence of what I’ve learned from the “days behind me.”

            Life’s greatest treasures are family and friends. I have been richly blessed.

            I do not believe Elon Musk, Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg—by those measures—could be any richer than I am.

            And I am grateful for everyone who ever told me no.