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Johnny Vardeman: As Jimbo or Bimbo, he liked to laugh, and make us laugh
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Since his untimely passing, Bimbo Brewer stories have been flying off the shelves like bread and milk before a snowstorm.

Bimbo was one of those gregarious characters who make a community fun to live in. He was as much a part of Gainesville as Green Street, and it wouldn’t be so far-fetched if somebody were to erect a statue of him right in the middle of it.

His varied experience in law enforcement, radio, newspaper, education, other endeavors and horses has been well told. There was even more to him than that, but it would take a book to tell it all.

Bimbo was a key player on Gainesville High School football teams 1958-60. As center, he had the honor of snapping the ball to two of the most successful Red Elephants in history, Billy Lothridge and Preston Ridlehuber. Both went on to star in their respective colleges, Georgia Tech and the University of Georgia, as well as in the National Football League. Billy Martin, another teammate, also had a stellar career at Georgia Tech and in the pros.

Bobby Lawson wasn’t imposing as a 145-pound fullback on some of those GHS teams. “But I was fast,” Bobby says. “I had to be.” He ran behind Brewer, whom he called a good blocker and a spirited teammate.

The 1959 Red Elephants lost only to Marietta in the regular season and to Rossville in the North Georgia championship. Bimbo was co-captain of the 1960 team that lost only to Athens in the regular season, but fell 49-0 to what fans still jokingly called “the University of Waycross” in the state finals at City Park.

Bimbo stayed close to sports all his life whether around horses or watching his grandsons, Ben and Jackson Still, play baseball. In recent years, Bimbo had become a regular fixture along with his wife Nancy at Gainesville’s Ivey Watson baseball field watching them play. 

During one game at Lanier Point field, where Ben was playing catcher for the Gainesville Braves travel team, an errant fastball skipped in front of the plate and struck him in an especially delicate spot. As Ben keeled over on his side in obvious pain, a hush came over the crowd of concerned parents and onlookers.

Bimbo stood up from his seat behind the fence at home plate to assess the situation, then yelled out some encouragement: “Come on, Ben,” he said. “Get up and stomp those feet. Those little boys will pop right back into place. Play ball!” 

Bimbo always believed laughter was the best medicine.

Another role for Bimbo at ballgames was keeping watch over wife Nancy for stray foul balls. He was usually pretty good at making a good catch or swatting one away. But at one particular GHS ballgame at Ivey Watson Park, his athletic prowess unfortunately failed him, allowing a baseball to smack his wife on her hand, causing an eventual trip to the emergency room.

Bimbo’s pride was hurt, not to mention the guilt that he felt. But it was Nancy’s humor that one-upped him this time. She teased that Bimbo either needed to get his eyes checked or start wearing a bigger baseball glove.

About that name. Officially, it’s James Camp Brewer. When he wrote an award-winning story in a Western book, the publishers bylined his first name as “Jimbo,” a common handle for other cowboy writers. And that actually was what his father nicknamed him as a child, according to his brother Fred. But playmates mispronounced it as “Bimbo,” and it stuck with him all these years.

Bimbo wasn’t shy about embellishing some of his stories. Daughter Erin alluded to this in her comments at his funeral. “He always said never let truth get in the way of a good story,” she said. But it’s no exaggeration to say her father was a well-liked person who seemed to know everybody and had a boatload of friends from all over. He made the most of his 73 years on earth, even if it seems much too short a time to have had him among us.

If you get to Heaven, look up Bimbo. Likely you’ll find him presiding over a campfire, swapping stories with a host of angels, a nag of a horse nearby, probably tied to an old beat-up pickup truck.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times.

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