One day when he was 11, John Ellington’s father, Charles, was electrocuted while working for Georgia Power Co.
His pastor, Gene Brooks, told him the news. From that time on, Brooks became a surrogate father to the young boy.
“He took me to my first Georgia game,” said Ellington, who graduated in both accounting and law from the university. “He took me to the Masters.”
Fighting back tears, he told me it was Gene who taught him how to play tennis and hired him to be the regular grass cutter at the First Baptist Church in Soperton, a small town in central Georgia between Macon and Savannah.
“He paid me $6 to cut the grass,” he said.
When he finished with the grass, he helped his pastor fold the church bulletins that he was printing on an old mimeograph machine.
Ellington is now a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals in Atlanta. He was among the mourners at Gene Brooks’ memorial service at First Baptist Church in Gainesville.
Gene was 87 and until the last few years continued to play tennis with a local group of seniors who called themselves “The Racketeers.”
Gene and his wife, Ella, came to Gainesville when Gene answered the call to become the pastor of Lakewood Baptist Church, where he served until 1990.
Wherever they lived, Gene and Ella took an active role in the community. For many years, Ella has been involved with the BULLI program at Brenau University.
Gene made the transition from pastor to church member very well. He was an active member of the choir, where he sung in the bass section. Every year, he would invite people, many of them strangers, to attend the annual Living Christmas Tree music presentation.
A few years ago when I was working at The Times, I did a story about Gene and Ella. They have a daughter, Lois, who has some physical challenges and requires the use of a wheelchair. Ella, too, has some health issues and requires a motorized scooter to get around.
Going to church on Sunday morning meant getting everyone in the van and loading the wheelchair and scooter in the back. It required a lot of work just to transport his wife and daughter to events, but Gene never complained.
The thing I probably liked most about Gene Brooks was that if he was committed to an activity, he was relentlessly faithful. When he could no longer play tennis, he showed up regularly at Longwood Park to see how his former teammates were doing.
He never gave up on his faithfulness to God. In addition to the choir, he taught Sunday school each week.
On the Sunday he suffered the stroke that eventually claimed his life, he insisted on going to teach his class before going to seek any medical attention. Those in his class knew he was not well. He went on the hospital where he died that week.
Gene Brooks was a quiet man and did not seek headlines or draw attention to himself. He just went about doing good for others.
He set an example for us all.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.