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Gadsden couple killed by COVID shared hospital room, texted when they couldn’t speak: ‘Their legacy is living on’

For the five days they shared a hospital room in Gadsden fighting COVID-19, Roger and Peggy Higgins communicated with each other by text message, unable to speak.

And though the couple died three weeks apart, their daughter Jana Tarleton feels their story will go on, in the lives of those who knew them and the children they cared for in the nursery at Gadsden’s First Baptist Church.

This thought occurred to her as she scrolled through tribute after tribute by friends, students, and others on social media. “There were people all over the country praying for them,” she said. “It just shows you how loved they really were.”

Peggy, 70, died Aug. 29. Roger, 72, died Sept. 20. A memorial service will be held for both of them Friday at the church.

“Their legacy is living on in the life of our church,” said Mat Alexander, their pastor. “They’ve inspired people to step up and serve.”

Roger, standing 6 feet 7 inches tall, weighing 275 pounds, was referred to as a “gentle giant.” He worked for 33 years at Goodyear’s Gadsden plant, sometimes on third shift.

Yet, Jana said, he would wake up in the afternoon to coach T-ball, baseball and later basketball. He also served as a basketball referee. His son Eric said he enjoyed sports, while Jana said he earned extra money toward her and her brother’s educations.

“He was meek, sweet and unselfish,” Eric said. “He loved sports, and he loved kids.”

Peggy taught high school math at Westminster Christian School, Emma Sansom and later Gadsden City High School until her retirement. Then, she continued tutoring students struggling to cope in the classroom. Eric said she had a “servant’s heart.”

“If you wanted something, you weren’t imposing on her. That was her gift,” he said. “She took it in stride. She wanted to be accommodating to what you wanted.”

Upon retiring, Roger had a lawn care business because he enjoyed the outdoors and liked being among people. The couple also became a familiar presence in the First Baptist Church nursery.

Peggy would coax parents with fractious children to “let me take care of this baby while you go to church.” They would sometimes return to find their child asleep in her lap.

In addition to being a deacon and greeter at church, Roger had the gift with children too, Alexander said, evident from his first event at the church.

“It was a cookout, sort of a meet-and-greet,” he said. “Our 6-month-old daughter Watts wouldn’t go to anybody else. But he picked her right up. They were like surrogate grandparents.”

The Higginses lived long enough to build a dream house for themselves in the last year, with a big dining room for Peggy to entertain the family at Christmas time.

Peggy tested positive for COVID on Aug. 5 and entered the hospital on Aug. 11.

About a week later, struggling to breathe, Roger attempted to drive himself to the hospital in the early morning before Jana stopped him and took the wheel. “He knew he needed to go, but he didn’t want to wake me up,” she said.

After Peggy died, Jana received a text message from Steve Gilliland, a critical care nurse.

When Gilliland finished his shift one Thursday, he asked Peggy what he could bring her when he came back on his Monday shift. She asked for grits. By the time Gilliland returned on Monday with her request, she had died. He was “absolutely devastated.”

“Your mother was the sweetest patient I have had since I have been nursing,” Gilliland told Jana in a text.

“She had a smile that helped get me through several days last week, when things were rough. Although I only knew her for a very short time, I can only imagine the many lives she must have touched throughout her years on this earth.”

While Roger stayed in the hospital, the church children recorded a video message, with each child saying, “Hey Mr. Roger, we miss you. Get better!” Described by his daughter as an “obnoxious Alabama fan,” Roger lived long enough to see Saturday’s Alabama-Florida game and have a last visit with family members.

Both Jana and Eric said they would like for other families to avoid the anguish they’ve felt over the last month, for people to have conversations with their health care providers about vaccines, masks and avoiding COVID-19.

Eric said he’s been particularly struck by the emotional toll the pandemic has taken on nurses tasked with comforting both family members and those suffering from the virus. And he’s tired of the endless arguments he’s seen over the vaccine.

Jana said her parents left a mark on their community, from neighbors whose yards Roger cut as a favor, to former students who passed through Peggy’s class.

“They were real,” she said. “You knew they loved God by their actions.”


Politics
Georgia is part of $30 million Democratic effort in nine battleground states

ATLANTA — The Washington, D.C.-based Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has announced a new, $30 million investment in nine battleground states – including Georgia – for the 2022 general election.

Besides Georgia, the DSCC’s Defend the Majority program is targeting Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The organization said this is the largest investment in ground-field organizing it has ever made at this point in the election cycle.

“Early, sustained organizing is how we win elections, and through our Defend the Majority program, the DSCC is building the ground game Democrats need to succeed in Senate battlegrounds across the country,” said Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Executive Director Christie Roberts.

“Our organizing programs are starting earlier than ever before. We’re taking nothing for granted, and by building meaningful relationships with voters now, we are laying the groundwork for Democrats’ victory in 2022.”

The DSCC said the money will be used to staff field offices and develop training programs; coordinate outreach programs to Latino, Black and younger voters; and hire communications staff who will be focused on defining Republican Senate candidates.

Georgia has several GOP candidates vying for an opportunity to challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock. The list includes University of Georgia football legend Herschel Walker, state Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black, businessman Kelvin King, trial attorney Jared Craig, former Navy SEAL Latham Sadler, and author James Nestor.

Walker has been endorsed by former President Donald Trump, while Black has picked up the endorsements of more than 50 state legislators, former Gov. Nathan Deal and former U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville.


Caroline Matheny, a kindergartner at Main Elementary School


Local
Rome City Commission rejects bond issue for paving; will make roads a budget priority instead

The Rome City Commission won’t be seeking permission from voters to issue $25 million in bonds to pave all 235 miles of road in the city.

The board voted 6-3 at a special called meeting Wednesday against putting the question on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Instead, they adopted an alternative proposal from City Manager Sammy Rich to dedicate $4 million in the 2022 budget to add to other road funding. The city already gets an annual state grant, has an earmark in the SPLOST and is expecting federal funds from the infrastructure bill pending in Congress.

Rich’s plan also includes a new, dedicated rapid response crew that would spend its days patching problem areas — including streets affected by water and sewer projects.

The idea of issuing bonds to pave all the streets at once was the brainchild of Commissioner Mark Cochran. He argued that it would save millions of dollars in the long run and would be a tangible value to residents in exchange for their tax dollars.

Mayor Craig McDaniel was part of the opposition, contending that the city should not go into debt, especially when the major issues are on the main thoroughfares owned and maintained by the state.

Cochran and Commissioners Bill Collins and Wendy Davis voted in favor of putting the question on the ballot.

“We should give the people of the city a chance to say if more of them are feeling what I’m hearing,” Davis said, referencing complaints she said were likely brought to a head by the Atlanta Gas Light pipeline project that damaged numerous neighborhood streets.

McDaniel was joined by Commissioners Jamie Doss, Randy Quick, Sundai Stevenson, Bonny Askew and Jim Bojo.

“Our young people have been neglected longer than our roads,” said Askew, who questioned why paving would be the one priority requiring bonds. “Why do we have to borrow money when we have money?”

The debt service on the bonds would have been about $2.6 million a year for 10 years. The city is sitting on an unprecedented “rainy day” surplus but will lose more than $300,000 a year in property taxes when the nonprofit AdventHealth buys Redmond Regional Medical Center.


Local
City Commission candidates answer questions during NAACP meeting

Rome City Commission candidates met with members of Rome’s NAACP chapter and One Community United via Zoom Tuesday night to participate in a question and answer session.

Tyrone Holland was the only one who couldn’t attend due to a prior commitment.

The candidates answered questions on development, community, what they want to accomplish on the City Commission or have accomplished while on the commission and homelessness.

LuGina Brown

If elected, LuGina Brown’s main focus would be on growth for Rome in three specific areas: jobs, industry and housing.

LuGina Brown

“I’m pro-growth, pro-jobs and pro-Rome,” she said. “We do need jobs and we do need housing so that’s where I’d focus my time.”

Brown also said she would make decisions based on the facts of a situation, but would also make sure to include the community’s opinion.

“I do think public opinion plays a part in it ... but I would be on more of a fact-based mission,” she said.

When talking about dilapidated properties around Rome, Brown said the code enforcement group should be expanded and given more guidance. She talked about how many of the structures have squatters living in them and they’re not suitable for people to live in.

Brown also said they should be investing back into the neighborhoods and communities for potential population and job growth.

Elaina Beeman

Elaina Beeman, who has been serving on the Rome City School Board for the last several years, is also wanting to focus on housing, but also health and safety for the people living in Rome.

Elaina Beeman

“Right now, COVID-19 is a high priority for us because we’ve got to get more people vaccinated and give healthcare workers a break,” she said. “When I talk about safety and security, I’m talking about housing. We’re getting ready to be impacted with a lot of homeless people because we have a lot of people that are going to be facing evictions.”

When making decisions as an elected official, Beeman said she looks at what is the right fit for the community, while also listening to the facts.

Beeman also talked about the homeless issue in Rome and the ordinances passed in 2019 to deal with urban camping. She said she wants to focus on why these people don’t have adequate housing and work on resources to help people acquire both work and shelter.

Victor Hixon

Victor Hixon has three very specific things he wants to focus on if elected: creating more technical jobs to attract young people to Rome, working on the drug epidemic and addressing the current situation with youth in the city.

Victor Hixon

“We need to be turning a page on drug culture, because it’s the biggest downfall for our city,” he said.

Hixon talked about the Martha Berry Boulevard corridor in the city that sees a lot of drug traffic around the hotels.

“I had a shop on Martha Berry for 18 years or so ... Somedays I would close it down so I didn’t have people coming up and asking for money,” he said. “I watched Martha Berry go down ... It’s time for that whole corridor to be built back up and maybe it’s something the planning commission can focus on.”

He also talked about the current issue with teenagers around Rome, saying there’s a need to look into gyms and basketball tournaments in local neighborhoods to keep the kids preoccupied.

“It is vital that we get our neighborhoods up to par to make sure our downtown thrives,” he said.

Jamie Doss

Jamie Doss is running for his eighth term on the City Commission and has put a lot of emphasis on trails, the tennis center and industrial recruiting.

Jamie Doss

Doss said he tries to listen to constituents and talked about some of the hard decisions the board has to make, particularly when it comes to zoning.

“Sometimes these decisions bring up a lot of feelings, but we don’t let them leave the room. We make the decision and we move on,” he said. “I would hope no one would sway to public opinion. That’s very important as a leader in this community.”

He also touched on the homelessness ordinances passed in 2019, saying the commissioners weren’t trying to persecute people for simply camping, but targeted those who left litter and messes behind, as well as panhandlers.

Randy Quick

Randy Quick is running for his second term on the City Commission and said he is especially proud of the commissioners’ work in raising pay for public safety officers, finding use for the Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital property and endorsing the East Bend and Riverbend shopping centers.

Randy Quick

When talking about the issue with youth in downtown Rome, Quick focused on getting the actual kids involved in solving the problems and maybe looking to High School Leadership Rome.

“Until the children truly feel like they’re involved, we’re never going to accomplish what we want,” he said.

Quick also said the commission needs to support any family fun and entertainment businesses coming to Rome, such as an arcade or mini golf.

“Those are things that may seem a little retro in appearance, but have a lot of value today for families,” Quick said.

You can watch the full Q&A session on the Facebook page ”Rome Ga Branch Naacp.”


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