If you have lived in North Georgia for any amount of time, you probably have a picture in your mind of James and Francis Mathis. Most likely, you would picture them as they tirelessly pulled in harness toward some civic goal to benefit our community.
Maybe it was that wonderful old curb market created by Mathis many years ago to bring us together in the fall to celebrate harvest season. Today, our Mule Camp Days is, quite simply, a grandson -maybe a great grandson - of Curb Market.
Possibly your picture is one of the Mathis team working and working to get the Georgia Mountains Museum up and running. That great old organization is the forefather of the wonderful Northeast Georgia History Museum on the Brenau University campus.
There are hundreds of other pictures that we have of the entire Mathis clan as they go about the job of just making things better for all of us lucky enough to live in these foothills of the Blue Ridge.
I have my own memory photo of Mathis that will remain with me till they lay the sod upon me. It's the picture of a man with his face lighted by the embers of a campfire as he told tales, tall and true, to a group of young men who had followed him up the Old Logan Turnpike to Tesnatee Gap.
We were Scouts in Troop 26, Mathis and Gene Bobo were leading us on a "survival hike" that took us roughly on the route of today's Richard Russell Highway. Of course, back then there was no paved road, no bulldozed-out vistas and no sounds or smells of motorized traffic. In fact, the stoutest four-wheel drive could not have made it up where we hiked that weekend.
As we sat by the fire, Mathis told this enraptured group of roughneck boys that we were among the chosen few who were able to see those mountains as they had been since the beginning. He told us that one day, near where we sat that night, would be a wide roadway where folks from Buckhead and Dunwoody could drive in air-conditioned comfort and see the mountains.
Though we never doubted our scoutmaster, I suspect our young minds were having problems comprehending such an impossibility. I know mine was.
Mathis told us that it was our lot to make sure that these mountains remain clean, pure and wild, as God intended.
Today, within 100 yards of our campsite, I'm proud to say that I see younger versions of men who today work to try to hold on to our mountains, "the mountain mama," who has nurtured us and has given us clean water and clear skies and a life truly envied by those trapped by concrete canyons.
Those mountains must also be the heritage of James and Francis Mathis. I never cross the gap that I don't think back on that band of wild boys who doggedly followed their scoutmaster to the summit. He and Mrs. Mathis and their great friend and fellow visionary, Gene Bobo, have truly guided so many to the summits.
Mathis was, is, and will always be "Scoutmaster." Well done!
James C. "Bimbo" Brewer is a Gainesville resident and member of the Hall County Sheriff's Department.