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Fond farewell to local legend
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In recent days, Hall County said goodbye to the last of the lions who ushered the region into the modern era.

Loyd Strickland never sought recognition for his work, but the evidence of it will be important for generations to come.

Perhaps the greatest of these is Interstate 985, the highway connecting Hall County and a large corridor of Northeast Georgia to the world.

In the late 1950s, Gov. Ernest Vandiver was presented with a map containing two routes for the proposed interstate highway connecting Atlanta with Greenville, S.C., and up the East Coast. One route took the highway through Athens, the other through Gainesville. Neither went through Vandiver’s hometown of Lavonia.

As the story goes, Vandiver suggested a third route, which bypassed both of the regional centers. Many old-timers refer to the turn of I-85 where it intersects with I-985 as the “Vandiver curve.”

Strickland, a confidante of Carl Sanders, Vandiver’s successor, secured a commitment from Sanders to build the already plotted highway to Gainesville. As a member of the state highway board, Strickland saw it to fruition.

A half-century later, the dream of a controlled access highway to Athens is still something hoped for.

You might not think about it when you’re driving to work, shopping or other events, but we owe a tip of our collective hats to Loyd Strickland.

He was also a key player in the establishment of what was known as Gainesville Junior College, now a major campus of the University of North Georgia. Along with the late James Mathis and Bubba Dunlap, they made sure young people in the area would have an entry point for secondary education. Ditto for Lanier Technical College.

But Strickland’s work was not just in the public arena. It was said at his funeral that Eagle Ranch, the world-class home for boys and girls, would not have happened without Strickland. He also sold large parcels of land for what would become Chateau Elan.

Strickland was a quiet man with a deep Christian faith. He was a tee-totaling Presbyterian who was instrumental in the building of Chestnut Mountain Presbyterian Church and for mission causes around the world.

His beautiful estate with azalea-lined pathways was once described to me as a “little Callaway Gardens.” I can still remember driving through it 25 years ago and feeling in awe.

In business, he took a small egg company and built it into one of the largest in the Southeast. In the egg business, he put Chestnut Mountain on the map.

Sadly, as he reached the twilight of his life, doctor’s discovered he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. I only saw him once in public during that time and it was sad to see this vibrant man reduced to a shell of his former self.

There will be no more like him and the other visionaries who transformed a largely rural area into a strong regional center for commerce, health care and education.

While we will have leaders, the era of those who brought about epic change is gone. Fortunately for us, their work lives on.

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

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