In 1962, John Elwin Sheffield, Jr., my uncle, ran for lieutenant governor. That summer, Daddy, Uncle Tom and Uncle John criss-crossed the state of Georgia putting up campaign posters. The campaign continued with a televised debate on WSB. The moderator was the late Ray Moore, of WSB-TV in Atlanta. We gathered around the TV in Grandma Griffin’s kitchen and watched the debate.
Uncle John did not win the election. In a field of nine candidates, the top two vote getters were Peter Zack Geer and Lester Maddox. In September of 1962, there was a runoff between Geer and Maddox. Geer won the runoff and subsequently served with Gov. Carl Sanders.
UNCLE JOHN AND AUNT MELBA had three children who are, of course, my cousins. Susan, Betty and Johnny. In 1976 Susan got married and Uncle John hosted a fish fry for the family the day before the wedding. Mama said, “John, it sure is good of you to host us. This food is delicious.” And Uncle John said, “Shoot…there is nothing to do at a time like this but eat!”
Uncle John was always thinking about others and what he could do for them. In the late 1980’s Mama had hip surgery, here in Rome. There were some complications after surgery and she had to stay in the hospital longer than expected. Uncle John and Aunt Melba came to the hospital to see us. After a brief visit with Mama, they went straight to the house. Uncle John said to my daddy,
“Paul, where do you keep your lawn mower? I’m gonna cut the grass.” And he did. Then he got out the grill and we had hamburgers in the back yard. Uncle John excelled at being there for people, especially family. Everybody in the little south Georgia town of Quitman, where they lived, loved him.
John passed away in Quitman several years ago. At visitation, the funeral home was crowded with people. Uncle John really liked Cole Porter and so there was a Cole Porter CD playing all evening. Mama was a woman of few words and she didn’t really want to talk to people. So while I went around to see people, she sat in a corner and watched people. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was watching me as well.
The closed casket was draped with the U.S. flag, and there was a big wreath of flowers next to a red UGA folding chair. The wreath had a banner on it that said, “To our top Dawg. Love, Susan, Betty and Johnny.”
Placed throughout the funeral home there were several easels which held a lot of black and white pictures, mostly of my cousins and me, as well as all the rest of the extended family. I knew Mama would want to see those pictures so I went to get her.
“Mama,” I said. “You gotta come see all these pictures and the wreath.” She enjoyed seeing the pictures.
That night in the hotel room, Mama said, “Pam, I declare I wish I could do what you did at that funeral home today.” I said, “What did I do?” She said, “You worked that room like a politician.”
UNCLE JOHN’S FUNERAL was at First United Methodist Church in Quitman. Not surprisingly, the church was packed. At the end of the service, the congregation sang the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” There was not a dry eye in the house as we all knew the inference of that song was “Glory, Glory to Old Georgia,” the UGA fight song for uncle John, our top dawg.
JOHN ELWIN SHEFFIELD, JR. World War II army veteran. UGA graduate. Businessman. Politician. Passionate about home and family and UGA football. When the caravan went across town to the cemetery, people stopped for us at every intersection. Utility workers on the roadside took off their hat in respect. I told you. Everybody in Quitman loved Uncle John.
Native Roman Pam Walker is a paralegal in Calhoun. You can email her at email@example.com.