He touched so many lives in so many ways it seems everyone had some type of positive relationship with the late James Mathis. I'm no exception.
We first met in 1956 when I moved to Gainesville. I lived at the corner of Lakeview Drive and Lakeview Circle. Mathis lived on the lower loop of Lakeview Circle. Another longtime friend, Keith Grogan, lived on the upper end of the Circle diagonally across the street from me.
Gainesville had no school buses and there was no public kindergarten. As our children reached school age, Mathis, Grogan and I carpooled throughout my son's elementary school at Enota.
Our first disagreement came when Mathis brokered a deal for the state to pave the then-dirt Lakeview Drive and Lakeview Circle. Property owners would donate and deed the necessary right of way. I had an ethical problem. State law prohibited paving non-state roads (though some politically well connected managed to get it done.) I was in the news and editorial business and I might have to write and editorialize on the practice. It wouldn't be for me to criticize when I had done it myself. Mathis disliked my refusal but he did understand and accept my reasoning. We later got the streets paved the legal way.
When he left the old Gainesville National Bank to help found and lead the old Home Federal, he paid me a high compliment. He was a visionary and brilliant, innovative marketer. I was editor of the Gainesville Tribune. I wrote him an eight-page tabloid promotional supplement that he told me was the best, most effective advertising piece he had ever had (at that time).
I later sold my interest in The Tribune and joined The Times. In between, I became chairman of the 9th District Republican Party. I was covering, with camera in Lakeshore Mall, a Democratic candidacy announcement that Mathis emceed. Spotting me kneeling on the floor to take the picture of him and the candidate under the overhead banner, he roared "We've even got the Republicans coming on their knees!"
He told me later in apology that he knew instantly he goofed. I was there as a journalist, not as my party's leader. We often laughed over it.
Despite philosophical and party differences, we weren't always on opposite sides. We twice worked together privately to heal feuds between officeholders and several times supported the same candidate. Always supported by his wife, Frances, the James Mathis I knew was an honorable, loyal and truly visionary giant of our community.
It hardly seems possible man first stepped on the moon 40 years ago Monday. Also, here's a tip to newcomers to our community. Tickets went on sale last week to the informal social event of the year, the Kiwanis Pancake Breakfast. It attracts several thousand to the Civic Center where Kiwanians and members of their sponsored youth service clubs cook and serve pancakes, sausage, fruit juice, milk, coffee and all the trimmings.
Door prizes are given all morning. There are clowns and music and best of all, fellowship. This year it's Saturday, Sept. 19 from 7-11 a.m. Tickets are available from any Kiwanis member.
Ted Oglesby is retired associate and opinion page editor. Reach him at P.O. Box 663, Gainesville, GA 30503. His column appears every other Tuesday.