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Loss of Nell hits home hard

POSTED: May 22, 2011 1:30 a.m.

The landscape of Hall County is minus one sturdy magnolia this week.

Nell Wiegand was one of those charming Southern ladies who were supportive wives to the great men who contributed to the success of our region in the post-World War II boom.

She passed away last week at the age of 82.

There is a picture of Nell and me that has been on our refrigerator for quite some time. We are both smiling broadly. It’s the way I want to remember her.

Nell was born into the Whelchel family, one of the pioneering families of Hall County. But being born into a prominent family did not keep her from having the common touch. She was at ease with anyone and had a voice that easily rolled from speaking to laughter.

Perhaps her best known community service was to Northeast Georgia Medical Center. In her earliest days as a volunteer, before the era of hospital cafeterias, she and others would make sandwiches in their home kitchens to sell at a slight profit for the hospital auxiliary.

That was more than 60 years ago, when Hall County Hospital was brand new. Just a few weeks ago, she was honored for her tireless work as a volunteer.

For several years, the Northeast Georgia Medical Center Auxiliary has honored the volunteer who demonstrates friendship to patients with an award named for Nell. A hospital patient could have no better friend that Nell, a woman who could make an absolute stranger feel like an old chum in no time.

On Sept. 12, 2001, as our nation reeled from the terrorist attacks of a day earlier, I was struggling with what I could do to help. I volunteered to answer the phone at the American Red Cross. Thinking that there would be numerous injuries, folks were lining up to give blood. One of them was Nell Wiegand.

As someone else took the phone, I came over and sat beside her.

"Just hold my hand, "she told me. It was a moment I’ll never forget. Here was a woman who was 72 and was willing to give the gift of life to someone who might need it in the horrible tragedy that had cast a pall over our nation.

A day or two after our house burned in 2008, Nell dropped by to give me a big bottle of a solution that would clean some of the scorched items. She knew from first hand experience when her house was damaged by fire.

When the new house was completed, she came by with a hydrangea that we planted in our yard. Someone cut it with the mower, but like the giver, it is tough and resilient. I look forward to it becoming a landmark in our yard.

One of her great legacies was giving many brides a British sixpence to put in their shoe for good luck. She gave the man who is now governor a lucky penny before the primary. He kept it in his pocket and sure enough, he won.

There are too few of those great magnolias that anchored the South for so many years. Their grace and charm, combined with their steely resolve to do good things, are qualities that seems to be diminishing in the ensuing generations.

We say our collective goodbye with memories of a wonderful woman deeply etched in our minds.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on
gainesvilletimes.com.



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