By now—if you have a Christmas tree—it’s probably sitting over there, looking sad without bright packages under its decorated boughs. While some gifts bring instant joy, many are quickly forgotten. And then there are those special gifts that seem to just keep on giving and giving.
If you are looking for one of those examples, I suggest you take a drive in Oglethorpe County. After leaving Lexington on Hwy. 77 South, you should not blink when you are 11 miles down the road. If you do, you’ll miss a gem of a tiny town. Among the 240 residents of Maxeys, you’ll find nothing tiny about this community’s history, civic pride or generosity.
Since we are knee-deep in tinsel and Christmas wrappings, the story of the gift to Maxeys is worth telling again and again. But first, I need to introduce you to my link to this remarkable story.
In 1966, freshmen couldn’t have cars at the University of Georgia. My journey to Athens was in the backseat of my mother and dad’s Buick. When I walked up to the second floor of the Oglethorpe House, the first person I met was Bill Cabaniss. For the next nine months, we’d share a suite in the private dormitory with Tony Price and my future brother-in-law Rick Bostleman. Rick and Bill had transferred from ABAC in Tifton.
One Sunday during that year, Bill invited us to his hometown to have lunch with his mother. Mrs. Cabaniss, mother of four sons and a daughter, knew how to handle the hungry. The dining-room table in her 1844-vintage farmhouse should have sagged from the fresh vegetables, meats, biscuits, sweet tea and desert that she piled on it. The four of us patted our college-boy tummies the 27 miles from Maxeys back to campus.
During the trip, Bill told a story which has swirled in my soul for more than a half-century. Many people in Northeast Georgia have heard of the A.T. Brightwell scholarship program. I had not. Long before Gov. Zell Miller championed HOPE scholarships for Georgia college students, Guy Brightwell’s bequest was giving hope to the young people of Maxeys.
Guy grew up in Maxeys, but he made his real-estate fortune in Atlanta and Alabama. When he died in 1957, he left $1 million as a memorial tribute to his late father, A.T., who had been a merchant and farmer. Since 1960, the A.T. Brightwell School Inc.’s foundation has awarded $2,284,621 in scholarships.
That’s 207 students, so far. The rules are fairly simple, but the key is the student must live within a one-mile radius of the Brightwell home place in downtown Maxeys. That’s why you see a footnote—“Brightwell eligible”—on certain Oglethorpe real estate for sale.
My friend Bill is one of those 207 scholarship recipients. He is a retired bank president and former chairman of the school board. His wife, Barbara, is a retired teacher. But these grandparents are far from just rocking on the porch of their 1833 home—a house built by one of the Brightwells.
Bill and Barbara get up in the mornings ready to give back to Maxeys and Oglethorpe County. Everyone can’t give a million dollars, but many—just like Bill and Barbara—are eager to give a “million” hours to make this tiny gem of a town sparkle. The spirit of Maxeys is a gift that keeps on giving and giving.