“Good morning! Coffee’s ready in heaven!!”
The words of Cindy Branton Kelley — echoing the daily Facebook posts of local author, historian and Renaissance man Mike Ragland — were among the hundreds of homages left for him Sunday from friends and fans around the country.
Ragland, 73, died suddenly Saturday as he was leaving a book-signing event at Welshfest in Rockmart. Funeral arrangements are expected to be announced today.
He leaves behind his wife, Martha Ragland; daughter, Bekki Fox; two grandchildren, Caleb and Mattie Parris; and three dachshunds, including Lucy, the star of two of his books. And thousands of admirers.
“I will miss him posting coffee is ready, temps and the weather in Cave Spring,” wrote Darlene Banks.
“He was the source of my morning news,” many wrote. It was mainly local news — happenings in and around the south Floyd County town he’d come to call home — although he didn’t shy away from national politics. The staunch conservative, however, left partisanship at the door when it came to improving his own community at large and even served a term on the Cave Spring City Council from 2014 through 2017.
“He was a great man who was strong in his convictions ... He was an amazing mentor when I ran for office 4 years ago,” wrote Abeed Bawa, who had sought a Rome City Commission seat.
Born and raised in Lindale, Ragland graduated from Pepperell High School in 1963 and joined the U.S. Navy, where he served on a submarine. His classmate Larry Upthegrove posted from Atlanta that he felt like he’d been kicked in the gut.
“Mike Ragland lived a full life, a popular, kind and courteous boy that grew into a full-of-life older man,” Upthegrove said, noting Ragland’s teen years in the cotton mill and stint in the Navy.
He then spent 40 years in the Rome Police Department, acing all the positions from motorcycle cop to detective to grant-writer and training officer before retiring with the rank of major. A retired FBI agent from Plainville, retired to Florida, posted his respects.
“He will be greatly missed by all of his FBI friends and FBI National Academy associates. My deepest sympathy to Mike’s family, law enforcement associates and friends,” Kenny Parkerson wrote.
Ragland gave the storyteller in himself free reign after he retired, researching and writing both fiction and nonfiction.
Arguably his most popular book, “Bertha,” is based on the true story of a woman convicted of a series of poisonings in Centre, Alabama, and Rome, Georgia, and later exonerated. He was talking up the possibility of it being made into a movie just days before he died. He also wrote tales of the Civil War and beyond, preserving local history in essays, speaking engagements and as a columnist for the Rome News-Tribune.
“Mike was actively promoting his writings and his Cave Spring community on a regular basis,” wrote Cherry Walker. “He attended many fairs and festivals and it was always a delight to see him sitting under his little canopy chatting and signing his books. ... I truly don’t think he ever met a stranger.”
Ragland had a wide range of interests, but all of them revolved around people. Among the many posts thanking him for his encouragement was one from children’s author Michelle Bradshaw, a Pepperell graduate who now lives in Great Falls, Montana, and from Serving in Song, a southern gospel group.
“He played such a big role in helping our group get started,” the Cave Spring-based trio posted. “Back when we were called Sisters in Song, Mike invited us to sing at countless services, revivals and shows. He was very significant in helping us record our first CD.”
Jill Hufstetler Alford said Ragland was “downright fatherly and so kind” when she came to work in the mid-1980s at Floyd County Juvenile Court, and encouraged her pursuit of a graduate degree even after she’d left the county to work with the feds.
“We all had the pleasure of listening to stories back before anyone knew he would be ‘our storyteller,’” she wrote.
He also touched the lives of people he never saw in person.
“I was only 1 of many Friends on his Facebook but he meant the world to me ... I honestly don’t know what I’ll do without my Daily Dose of Mike,” Patricia Googe wrote.
Margaret Hollingsworth, a close friend who helped Ragland in researching and editing his books, said he had several books in the works when he died.
“He had so many more stories yet to tell. He will be greatly missed!” Hollingsworth wrote.
Stories about the larger-than-life Ragland, however, will continue to be told. Christy Evans posted a video she and Brian Tedder shot Saturday afternoon of an eagle hunting on Raccoon Mountain.
“I told Brian I believed it was a sign & I was going to look up what it meant. Now I think I know,” Evans wrote. “Fly high, Mr. Mike. I now know that this was you, flying to heaven.”