April 18, 2024

How one Yankee fell in love with Georgia


            The young couple had just driven 756 miles from Pittsburgh. They weren’t quite sure of what to expect in Southeast Georgia. Barbara and Andy Marks would soon find out.

 The U-Haul—stuffed with their possessions—was sitting at the Elm Street curb in Jesup. As they checked out the empty cottage, rented from L.G. and Peachy Aspinwall, they heard a knock.

            Their first guest was a preacher. After brief introductions, the minister suggested that the trio pray. Grabbing a metal folding chair, the lone piece of furniture in the room, he improvised an altar and asked them to kneel.

            With their heads bowed, Barbara and Andy peeked to make eye contact with each other. That’s when they noticed Nassau, their golden retriever. The puppy was sniffing the Man of God’s heels.Then, Nassau hiked a hind leg. Yes, he did. And when the reverend stood up, his white socks were yellow.         

            That’s the first memory of my hometown for the Ivy League grad and his beautiful bride, who looked like Ali MacGraw’s sister. (Remember Ali and Ryan O’Neal in the blockbuster movie Love Story?) Not long after that, Pam and I met the Yankee newcomers, forging a friendship that has spanned a half-century.

            Andy and Barbara’s background was more than 756 miles apart from Pam’s and my South Georgia upbringings. One of Andy’s prep school baseball teammates was a future United States president. After their graduation from Phillips Academy, Andy went to Princeton. George W. Bush went to Yale and later to the White House.

Andy had come to Wayne County to manage a company that was involved in the construction of pulp-mill giant Rayonier’s Unit C. When the project was complete, our friends packed to return north. I advised, “Now that you have Georgia sand in your shoes, you’ll be back.”

That was 1973.

Barbara was expecting their first child, Buffy. And Pam was expecting our first, Alan. Eight years later, the phone rang. “Hey, Dink, this is Andy. You were right. We’re back. In Columbus.”

But I am getting ahead of myself.


While they were in Jesup, Barbara and Andy were frequent guests in our mobile home in Westberry Trailer Park. The New Moon was so small that we joked that we had to go outside to change our minds. Andy volunteered to put his construction skills to work. Together, we built a privacy fence so that we could dine under the glow of tiki torches and the stars.

To celebrate their first Fourth of July in the South, we took them to Pam’s family’s farm, Shirahland, in Southwest Georgia. To commemorate the holiday, we aired up four mammoth tractor inner tubes. Floating in the pond, we feasted on cold watermelon, waiting for dark and the fireworks.

And then there was that 1981 we’re-back call.

Columbus is near Auburn University. Pam stayed with Barbara while Andy and I took the kids to the 1986 game. The   Dawgs upset the Tigers, 20-16, but we didn’t hang around to woof, woof. That’s the infamous night that Auburn turned on the fire hoses. We barely missed getting drenched.

And then there was that Saturday in Athens when Barbara and Andy were showered with Southern hospitality. They joined us at UGA president Fred Davison’s house for a pre-game lunch. Andy sat next to Fred on the police-escorted bus to Sanford Stadium. Later, Andy said, “All those years at Princeton, and I never even came close to its president.” Andy was smitten. I can still hear his infectious laugh.

Stories, so many stories.

Soon after they returned to Georgia, Andy introduced me to his friend Jimmy Yancey. Andy said, “Start buying Columbus Bank and Trust stock. And oh, yeah, load up on something new that CB&T has started, Total Systems.” I am glad that I listened. Jimmy’s bank became Synovus. He became more than my banker. Jimmy has been a friend and confidant ever since. Thank you, Andy.

On March 20, Jimmy called.

Andy had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis.

Minutes later, I was talking to Andy.

In a matter-of-fact way, he explained his situation. I could hear Barbara talking in the background.

And then suddenly, we were back on Elm Street. Andy was reliving his and Barbara’s horror, watching Nassau soak the preacher’s socks.

We ended our conversation laughing.

I had no idea that would be the next-to-the-last time that I would hear his voice.

Andy died on April 11.

Stories, so many stories.

You left a legacy of love, leadership and laughter, my friend.