Long before I founded Greater Community Bank, I was a standby pilot for Rome’s Georgia Kraft Company.
In 1968, golf pro Doug Sanders, a native of Cedartown, put together a charity golf tournament/variety show to benefit local charities. Doug convinced the Rome Jaycees to cosponsor the events, with the golf outing at the Coosa Country Club and the evening celebrity event at the Rome City Auditorium.
Doug Sanders was a teaching pro at one of the Palm Springs, California, country clubs, and that’s how he knew all the big-name celebrities. I was told they agreed to come to Rome for the weekend as an accommodation to Doug. Most of them either were, or had been, golf students of Doug’s.
I can’t recall the names of all the celebrities, but it took three private planes to transport them all from Atlanta to Rome and back again on Sunday evening.
Bernard Neal took some in his twin Aero-Commander, and I think the other plane was Ted Munchak’s Queen Air piloted by Joe Drolet.
I was filling in for Georgia Kraft one week in the summer of 1968, flying their Piper Aztec aircraft along with chief pilot Garvis Reed. Some pilots might wonder why we needed two pilots. Mr. McSweeny, president of Georgia Kraft, would not fly in any aircraft that did not have two pilots, so that was the company rule.
We left Rome early on Saturday morning to take Mr. Billl Ebersole, vice-president of Georgia Kraft, to Athens to attend a meeting. While waiting, a call came in from Mr. McSweeny. He instructed us to proceed to Atlanta Hartsfield and meet a specific Delta Airlines flight at its assigned gate and “transport some celebrities to Rome.”
“What about Mr. Ebersole,” I asked?
He said, “Don’t worry. I’ll send a car for him.”
On arrival at Hartsfield I asked ATL (airport code for Atlanta) ground control which gate the Delta flight was assigned, and we got permission to go there and park on the edge of the apron behind that gate. The Delta jet was already there so it wasn’t long before a few people headed our way.
You can imagine our surprise when it turned out to be Dean Martin, Andy Williams, Keely Smith, Phil Harris and Rod Serling of “Twilight Zone.” Soon thereafter we were off to Rome. Serling had something wrong with his eye and we arranged for Dr. Dick Connell to see him soon after arrival. Martin was really nice and thanked us for a safe and uneventful flight.
Sunday evening, just prior to sundown, we were assigned to deliver Andy Williams back to Hartsfield. He appeared to be feeling no pain ... had a Ballentine Ale can in each hand when boarding. According to FAA regulations, we shouldn’t have even let him on the plane, but we did. We left RMG (Rome) VFR (visual flight rules) — but about half-way to Hartsfield it started raining cats and dogs, so we decided we better file IFR (instrument flight rules) in-flight and get sequenced into the approach/landing queue for ATL.
We were vectored directly over Hartsfield and Williams could look down and see it clearly, but we kept on flying west because we had been told by ATL approach control to set up for a back course ILS approach to Runway 9 left. Williams started complaining because he could see the airport but we weren’t landing! We had to go west almost to Carrollton before turning back east to intercept the ILS and Williams was griping all the way.
I was actually flying the approach and Garvis got so aggravated with him that he pretended to pass the mic back to Williams, saying “Croon them a bit of ‘Moon River’ and maybe they’ll let us in ahead of everyone else.” Garvis, thinking better of what he had just said to Williams, pointed out to him that only Air Force One receives priority on landing sequence. Anyhow, we finally got him delivered safely to his gate and both of us agreed that we never wanted to fly Andy Williams again.
I didn’t go to the show at the auditorium that evening because I’d already seen them all earlier in the day except for Pat Boone. I understand he didn’t associate with all the other “celebrities.”
I’m not sure Rome has had that high a level of celebrities in town all at once since. Many people came together on that rare weekend to volunteer their time and services to make the event happen. I’m glad my employer and I had a memorable role in it.