As neighbors go, I don’t know that you could have had a better one than Claude Bagwell.
He died last week at the age of 91.
I don’t know many men who legitimately wear the label Renaissance man, but Claude could and did.
I don’t know that he ever found an insurmountable mechanical challenge. He was one of those men with a plethora of skills.
Over a half century ago, he made the prototype hosiery fabric that revolutionized pantyhose. He did this as a research assistant to Gene Bobo, who was a partner in the patent that took women out of thick hosiery into something sheer.
I know that pantyhose are passé in some circles today, but I saw in a picture that the Duchess of Cambridge wears them. She owes a tip of her crown to Claude.
If it weren’t for Bobo and Bagwell, the royals might be wearing some rather frumpy looking stockings.
About two years ago, Claude started remodeling his house and did a lot of the work himself. He finished the project last fall with an outside facelift of his home.
I thought he might have discovered newfound energy and was incredibly ambitious. Instead, I think he might have sensed the end was near and wanted to make his home more attractive for his heirs.
Claude never married and I used to tease him that will all that fixing up, ladies were going to come calling on the neighborhood’s most eligible bachelor.
He was the go-to man for things mechanical. If my lawn mower broke down, you could ask Claude for advice and the next thing you know, he was lying on the ground working on it.
He was a mechanic, carpenter, electrician and plumber. He owned the best collection of screws, bolts, washers and nails that I ever saw. The good part is that he was very organized and you could show him a bolt and he could find one just like it in a matter of minutes.
His homegrown mechanical skill was called to use as a member of the Army Air Corps, serving in the Pacific theater in World War II. He worked on the P-40, the P-47 and the P-51, the “Mustang” fighter that many credited with helping win the war.
When he wasn’t working, he enjoyed watching sports on TV. He was a big Braves and Bulldogs fan. After an extra TV set came his way, he put one on top of the other and fashioned a multiscreen setup.
He worked in the textile business throughout his life. My wife tells stories of him bringing her family socks in an assortment of vivid colors and styles. That’s pretty neighborly.
I don’t know that I will ever stop looking across the back fence to see if Claude is busy at work in the yard. The work of his hands will be long evident as a memorial to a man who knew the meaning of hard work all of his life.
I didn’t get to choose my neighbor. My wife’s family had already staked their claim on him when we married.
I don’t think I could have chosen better.
I have referred to him in this space as the world’s greatest neighbor. It’s a title he will hold in my mind forever.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.