Film legend Burt Reynolds sits at a table in a room just off Broad Street on Friday afternoon.
He's here for a press conference ahead of his appearance at this year's Rome International Film Festival and it's clear that locals are excited about his being here.
The room, the front office of V3 Magazine, begins to fill with members of local and regional media. There are video cameras set up in the back of the room, photo cameras are clicking constantly and everyone has their phones out, pointed at the 81-year-old star.
Rome's mayor and city manager are here, as well as several members of the business community. There are even look-alikes of the characters from "Smokey and the Bandit," one of Reynolds' most famous films.
An armed law enforcement officer guards the door.
And the press conference hasn't even begun yet.
Reynolds is signing autographs and posing for photos. Over a bright blue shirt, he's wearing a jet black jacket that sparkles when it catches the light. There's a small gold cross on his lapel, and he's wearing pink-tinted sunglasses.
His salt and pepper hair is mostly salt, now, and he smiles easily while talking to the people asking for photos and autographs. He's done this for years. He's used to this adoration.
When the press conference begins, a RIFF official introduces Reynolds and what follows is more of a walk down memory lane than a press briefing.
Reynolds' first statement was a compliment to the state of Georgia and its residents when asked about his relationship with the state.
"I just fell in love with Georgia," he says, his voice low but clear. "The people are so nice. They have always been so welcoming and kind. And my movies I filmed here have always been a success."
Reynolds offers anecdotes about filming some of his most famous films here, from the iconic "Deliverance" to "The Longest Yard" and of course "Smokey and the Bandit."
He mentions Sally Field, Jerry Reed and the incomparable Jackie Gleason. His stories and memories elicit laughter and smiles from the crowd.
"Deliverance," he says, holds a special place in his heart.
"I'll never forget 'Deliverance' as long as I live," he says. "Ned Beatty should have won an Academy Award for that. And I still have dinner with Jon Voight whenever I'm in town."
He also speaks highly of Ed Spivia, crediting him with being responsible for the birth, growth and success of Georgia's film industry.
And then a member of the press asks about his memories of his friend and co-star, the late Dom DeLuise. Reynolds grows emotional at the memory.
"I miss him every day," he says. "He made me laugh. He couldn't stand pain, even a little pinch. I would step on his foot right in the middle of a take and he'd start giggling so bad he couldn't stand it. I don't know why that amused me. I loved Dom so much. There's never been another one like him."
Reynolds will appear at the screening of "Smokey and the Bandit" today at 7 p.m. at the Rome City Auditorium as well as his newest film, "Dog Years" on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. at the DeSoto Theatre.
The new film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and Reynolds says he's "real proud" of it.
"It's a sweet story that nobody would think I'd make," he says.
Throughout the press conference, Reynolds is remarkably candid and, even at 81, remembers the tiniest details about films he made several decades ago.
As the press conference winds down, Mayor Jamie Doss, City Manager Sammy Rich and City Clerk Joe Smith walk to the front of the room and Doss reads a proclamation recognizing Reynolds' contributions to the film industry and particularly to the Georgia film industry and proclaiming Nov. 10, 2017, to be Burt Reynolds Day in Rome.
Doss has asked Reynolds to remain seated during the reading of the proclamation. At 81, the film star needs the assistance of a cane to walk and his posture is somewhat stooped.
But he insists on standing.
"I want to stand for this," he says as he rises from his chair to accept the framed proclamation from Doss who reads a long, glowing list of Reynolds' accomplishments. "This is wonderful. Now I know how you got to be mayor. Thank you."
In his final remarks during a Veterans Day event at Coosa Middle School, Lt. Gen. Billy Brown instilled in the audience the message that it is not by those who exhibit the freedoms of our nation who gave them to us, but by the veterans who served and sacrificed to ensure that they could.
"It is the veteran — not the preacher — that has given us freedom of religion," he said. "It is the veteran — not the reporter — that has given us freedom of the press."
Brown, of the U.S. Corps of Chaplains, enlisted in the Army with only an eighth-grade education. He joined the 5th Infantry Division as a 14-yearold, the same age as some of the students in the audience listening to him speak in the school's gym.
By the age of 16, he was a squad leader in the 187th Airborne, Regimental, Combat Team serving in the Korean War — the youngest member of the group.
He was tasked with leading fellow Army Paratroopers who were 4 years older than he was.
"Those that fight the war are the young men and women," he said.
They were facing an unknown enemy who spoke a foreign language in a nation they hadn't heard of, Brown said.
"This is insane what we're doing to one another," he recalled, having lost eight close friends and acquaintances in combat.
But to save one's own life, and the lives of fellow brothers in arms, it meant having to do them harm, he continued.
Plenty of people ask, "Why war?" Brown said. Because someone wants what you have, he continued. Freedom is not free "because somebody wanted what we have." Somebody wanted our assets, our freedom, our country, he said.
From their initial oath of allegiance to defend the constitution before going into service, "They lay their life down, then, they take on a new identity," he added. "They hang up their uniform but they don't hang up their experiences.
"All veterans are heroes," not just those who saw combat, he said.
When Brown came out of the military he was an expert on weapons and explosives, he said, but he couldn't pass a math exam or a driver's test. But he wanted something better than destruction.
Brown earned his GED while serving, but he knew he needed to further pursue education, and he encouraged students to do the same.
"I learned how to study and find answers in school," said Brown, who has gone on to receive a number of degrees.
"I'm open to learning anything that I can't."
Not everyone needs to be a soldier to be a hero, Brown said, and he prodded them to not follow his example and leave eighth grade to join the military.
A lot of things in the U.S. need improving, he said, as he turned to the youth in the room for the answer.
"It's in your hands," he said. "What kind of country do you want?"
The heroes of education, he said, are preparing students to be the catalyst of bettering our nation.
"I wasn't that prepared," he said. "I see hope in you for a better world."
Even though Brown didn't want to get too political, he wanted to convey his thoughts and perhaps add depth to the conversation on the topic of NFL players kneeling in protest during the playing of the national anthem before games.
"I still get close to tears when I see the flag," Brown said, as do many veterans.
It bothers him to see players kneel before the flag, he said, "but this is the freedom we have." It's something he has discussed with his "assistant" Leslie Schoonover, who is also a member of the U.S. Corps of Chaplains.
He painted the audience an image of the ghosts of fallen service members, who died under the flag, marching onto the field and standing before players, telling them, "I'm stronger than you are.
"I died for your freedom," they would say.
Brown said Schoonover told him, "They have a right that you earned in freedom."
Dooly County 56, Trion 35
"It isn't about our opponent, but about how well Rockmart continues this season," Parson said.
The Jackets put up big numbers with Markus Smith and Zabrion Whatley combining on the ground. Rockmart will host Callaway — coming off a 28-8 win over Douglass — next Friday night.
Logan Blevins scored three touchdowns for the Trion football team Friday night, but it wasn't enough for the Bulldogs in a 56-35 loss to Dooly County in Class A Public state playoffs. Blevins scored on runs of 20, 2 and 5 yards. He finished the night with 103 rushing yards.
Brett Brown scored on a 23-yard pass from Jarrett Gill, and Tanner Railey scored on a 4-yard run. Gill finished 65 rushing yards and 127 passing yards.
Dooly County's Desi Lester posed a problem for Trion all night. Lester finished 310 yards and five touchdowns on 14 receptions.
The Bulldogs finish the season with a 7-4 record. Dooly County (5-6) will face Clinch County in the second round.
Rabun County 49, Chattooga 6
Chattooga's football team faced a tough test Friday in undefeated Rabun County, the result being a 49-6 loss to the Wildcats in the opening round of the Class AA state playoffs.
The Indians finish the season with a 4-7 record.
For prep coverage throughout the season, including scores, stories and photos, visit RN-T.com.
When Rome artist Frank Murphy was commissioned to do a painting of Harold Storey's journeys in World War II, he didn't realize how large of a canvas he would need.
"Harold had plenty of material, in fact he had so much material it was almost overwhelming," Murphy said.
The final version of the painting includes scenes from Storey's landing at Utah Beach during the invasion all the way across France to the Battle of the Bulge.
The painting was commissioned by Rome businessman and art aficionado Greg Sumner.
"Greg was really the visionary and I just took his vision and Harold's reality and tried to put it in an image of some sort," Murphy said.
Sumner said, "I've never seen a story like this told on canvas before."
A copy of the painting is on public display at the Rome Area History Museum on Broad Street in downtown Rome.
"I was just so flattered," the 95-year-old Storey said. "I had a little bit of misgivings about how he would interpret what he wanted to know about."
The painting took about three months after he narrowed down Storey's stories that were to be depicted and involved several mid-stroke revisions.
"I had several meetings with Harold," Murphy said. "My real challenge was to take all of this and pull it together and make it some kind of cohesive idea of the images from what he shared with me."
The painting starts with an image of the landing at Utah Beach, and then moves to soldiers on a road leaving the beaches of Normandy. A very small painting of the cathedral at Chartres has special meaning for Storey. U.S. troops had been ordered to destroy the cathedral believing it to be a place of sanctuary for Nazi troops.
Perhaps the most meaningful image, according to Storey, is in the lower right corner of the art and depicts a German hospital at Metz. His troops had been cut off from the main body of U.S. Forces just prior to the Battle of the Bulge.
"We couldn't stay where we were, nor could we go back," Storey said. His unit of 100 soldiers or less wound up in the small town.
Storey said a lot of the Germans in Metz realized at that time the war was basically over for them. The commandant of the hospital came out, straightened up his uniform and handed Storey a pistol.
"He saluted me and said now we work for you," Storey said. It turns out seven American captives were being treated at the hospital. "Of course they were delighted to see us. They were very thirsty because we had destroyed the Metz water system a few days before," Storey said.
Several days later he managed to make radio contact with his headquarters unit.
"The reaction from one of those guys was, 'Where the hell have you been? We thought you were all dead,'" Storey recalled.
Murphy said he spent a lot of time trying to determine how to best portray Storey himself. "I debated using a picture of Harold as he is now," Murphy said. He ultimately decided to use an image of Storey as he looked as a young First Lieutenant during the war.
Ila Stargel Sewell Jones of Rome was the 10th-oldest person in the world when she passed away Friday.
She was 114 and a resident at Manor House of Rome.
As of Friday, the Gerontology Research Group still had Jones listed among the world's 42 supercentenarians — living people who are validated to be 110 or older.
Jones was born Aug. 21, 1903, in Lumpkin County, but moved to Floyd County in 1930 to teach at Cave Spring Consolidated School. It was there she met and married Paul Sewell, and where the couple raised their family.
For the next 30 years or so, Jones taught generations of students at the Georgia School for the Deaf and, later, at Cedartown High School.
Joh n Ho use's Cave Spring Chapel will be handling the funeral arrangements.
Her oldest grandchild, Mary Ila Blake of Knoxville, Tennessee, said in August that her grandmother had little energy during a birthday celebration at the nursing home. Still, Jones enjoyed her life and her family.
"Last time my parents went down, they walked her outside. When she's awake her cognitive ability is intact, and her sense of humor," Blake said at the time.
Jones' son, Paul Sewell Jr., still lives in Rome. He talked about his mother's life during a 2013 interview, beginning with the fact that she first saw Halley's Comet at the age of 7 and again, when it came around 75 years later, in 1986.
Sewell also provided a glimpse of a well-educated and well-traveled woman.
Jones left Cave Spring to teach in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1963, five years after her husband had died.
She met her second husband a year later and they eventually moved to Pasadena, Texas, where she became a licensed sewage facility operator and ran the local bingo game.
At age 85 she moved to California and then back to Texas before she returned to Northwest Georgia.
"She moved back to Rome in 1992, and she's been in Rome ever since," Sewell said.
The Gerontology Research Group lists the oldest living person as 118-year-old Nabi Tajima of Japan. Four other women in Japan, two in Italy and one in Spain round out the top tier, along with Delphine Gibson of Pennsylvania, who was born just four days before Jones.
Lucille Randon, 113, of France, now moves to the 10th slot.