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2 Hall business giants among key figures remembered fondly
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Several key figures in Hall County history died in 2009, including two of the area’s most influential businessmen who helped build the community into what it is today.

James Mathis Sr., a longtime Gainesville banker and philanthropist, died in July at age 84. Mathis, a Hall native, was president of Home Federal Savings & Loan Association, which later became a bank and subsequently merged with what is now SunTrust.

He created what is now called the annual Mule Camp Market and also was one of the driving forces in the creation of what is now Gainesville State College in Oakwood. His name graces the college’s Dunlap-Mathis Building, which houses a testing center, offices and classrooms.

After the Board of Regents gave its blessing for a two-year college in Hall, Mathis headed “the task force that decided on the location and really got the county to vote for a bond issue that was used to buy the land and build the first couple of buildings,” said the college’s president, Martha Nesbitt.

“He is truly one of the founders of the college,” she added.

Mathis, born in the Hall County community of Klondike, found his career in banking and his niche in creative marketing. He attended Young Harris College and was active in preservation of the history and environment of the North Georgia mountains.

Mathis also served as Scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 26 for many years and was an active member and supporter of First Baptist Church of Gainesville.

Another influential banker and key player in the recruitment of several key industries in Hall County, Ray McRae, died in April at age 85.

McRae was remembered as the consummate deal-maker who played a role in bringing Wrigley, Teledyne Technologies, Elan Pharmaceuticals and the Chateau Elan resort to the area. He was president of First National Bank prior to its 1995 merger with Regions Bank.

McRae was honored by the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce in 2007. He was twice named Georgia Volunteer Industrial Developer of the Year and was one of Georgia Trend magazine’s Top 100 most influential Georgians in 1991 and 1994.

Mathis and McRae were friendly competitors over the years and remained friends. “He was one fine man and a mighty fine banker,” Mathis said of McRae after his death.

Here is a list of other key figures who died last year, listed alphabetically:

Mike Adcock

Mike Adcock, 53, was a beloved administrator who most recently served as an assistant principal at Johnson High School. The basketball coach had worked in education for 27 years before he died in May.

Adcock also coached basketball at Flowery Branch, West Hall and Rabun County high schools.

Johnson junior Mark Pettitt organized a candlelight vigil for Adcock following his death.

“He really impacted the lives of every student here,” he said. “... He knew every child had a different case and he really listened and got to know the individual.”

Adcock was seriously injured in a car wreck in August 2008. He gained tremendous support from students and the community as he slowly recovered. Adcock received a standing ovation when he appeared at Johnson’s graduation in May.

The Rev. Fulton Boswell

The Rev. Fulton Boswell died in April on his 89th birthday. Boswell was known for his devotion to preaching and tending to members, visiting them at home, in the hospital or wherever was needed.

A lifelong Hall County resident, he had pastored five churches since 1960, said his son, Larry Boswell, a preacher in Carroll County.
Boswell, a World War II veteran who served in Italy, was pastor at Montgomery Memorial Baptist Church for 14 years, including through one of the worst times in its history.

On June 4, 2000, arson turned the church sanctuary into a smoking shell of brick and charred wood. A year later, the congregation of the Gainesville church broke ground on Dunlap Street for a new sanctuary with songs and prayers.

Boswell “was truly a great man and was a great pastor,” said Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper, a Montgomery member for 34 years. “He was always the type of preacher whose message went beyond the doors of the church.”

Henry Braselton

Former Braselton mayor and councilman Henry Edward Braselton passed away in December at age 82.

Braselton was one of the sons of town founder John Oliver Braselton, and served as the town’s mayor from 1988 to 2001. He also served for more than 40 years as a town councilman.

“His efforts to recruit business and industry for jobs for the citizens of Braselton are unparalleled,” Braselton Mayor Pat Graham said. “His love for the historic traditions of the town will be long remembered. ... Forever, we will remember his oft-spoken gentlemanly invitation, ‘Come to see us.’”

Graham said Braselton was instrumental in recruiting many of the town’s key businesses, including Chateau Elan, Mayfield Dairy, Braselton Poultry and Panoz Automotive.

Jimmy Cutrell

Jimmy Cutrell, a beloved instructor who had struggled with a disabling spinal condition since 2008, died in October at age 66.

Cutrell taught voice as part of Preparatory Music Inc. at Brenau University. Among other accomplishments, Cutrell had a long church music career, serving as minister of music in Baptist churches in Mississippi and Georgia.

He served at First Baptist Church of Gainesville for 11 years and later as music assistant at First United Methodist Church of Gainesville.

Cutrell had spinal stenosis, or narrowing of the spine, a condition that was diagnosed after he fell in 2008, resulting in paralysis from just below the neck down.

Friends and supporters threw a benefit concert for him in February at Brenau’s Pearce Auditorium.

“We are here ... to give back to an individual who has given so much to this community,” emcee Vanessa Hyatt-Fugate said at the event.

Francine Dibben

Francine Dibben, a longtime business manager and, most recently, the associate managing director of Gainesville Theatre Alliance, died in October at age 60 after a battle with cancer.

For two decades, Dibben worked not only to bring quality theater to North Georgia but was an advocate for the arts who found ways to blend community activism with performances.

During her tenure with GTA — starting in 1986 with Ed Cabell, who founded the program, and until her health forced her to retire a couple of years ago — Dibben worked to connect the community with theater in unconventional ways. She later began teaching a course at Gainesville State College that continued her vision: Theater for Social Change.

Dibben served for many years as community liaison for Theatre Wings volunteers and spearheaded GTA’s audio-description program. With her colleague, Margarita Muñoz, Dibben helped nurture a Spanish-language theater in Hall County, according to longtime friend Robin Hale.

“In large part, our organization is viewed as a family by a lot of people, and in large part because of her contribution,” said Jim Hammond, artistic and managing director for the Gainesville Theatre Alliance.

Al Hayes

Albert “A.D.” Hayes, who founded Hayes Auto Service and other dealerships in Northeast Georgia, died in August at age 81.

Hayes’ rise in the auto industry began in 1953 when he ran a gas station/garage in Decatur. And in 1971, Hayes opened an auto dealership at a Lawrenceville location where businesses had failed. He succeeded to the point of expanding, including opening a dealership in 1984 off Frontage Road in Oakwood. Hayes was also a founding member of Independent Garage Owners.

Hayes’ success in the industry made his face a familiar sight on area advertisements and billboards.

When Hayes died in August, his son, Tim Hayes, general manager of the Hayes Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep dealership in Oakwood recalled his father as “a kind, generous person” who had varied interests.

“He was a farmer. I was raised on a 100-acre farm in Snellville and then, when I got married and left the house, he moved to a 200-acre farm in Jackson County,” he said. “He’s always had cattle and ... he raised bulls and sold them.”

A.D. Hayes had two other sons and was married for 62 years to Ann Hayes.

John Burl Hulsey

John Burl Hulsey, a prominent Gainesville businessman whose service as a Navy pilot in World War II helped in the development of the modern cruise missile, died in July at age 91.

Hulsey flew unmanned, remote-controlled drones in top-secret missions that were not declassified until 45 years after the war ended.

He was also a survivor of the Gainesville tornado of 1936.

After the war, Hulsey started a successful plumbing business that is now owned by his son.

Maj. Kevin Jenrette

A former U.S. Army Ranger from Lula, Maj. Kevin M. Jenrette, 37, was one of three Georgia soldiers who were killed in action in June while serving in Afghanistan.

The trio died from wounds sustained from an improvised explosive device and small arms fire near Kapisa, Afghanistan.

They were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 108th Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition Squadron, 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team with the Georgia National Guard in Calhoun.

The men had been in Afghanistan for approximately three weeks at the time of the attack and Jenrette’s unit was the first to deploy from the Georgia National Guard.

Crowds of people waving flags or holding their hands over their hearts lined the streets to pay their respects when Jenrette was flown home from Afghanistan. Kyle Savage and his two sons were among those who showed their support to the Jenrette family, even though they didn’t know the family.

“I told my sons we ought to stop and pay our respects,” Savage said. “Because he died to protect our freedom, we ought to pay our respects to the family. It’s the least we can do.”

Hundreds later attended his funeral at funeral at Timber Ridge Baptist Church.

“Kevin was a great leader,” Georgia Army National Guard Adjunct Gen. Terry Nesbitt told the crowd during the graveside funeral service. “He died doing what leaders do. Kevin didn’t have to be where he was. Kevin chose to be there because he was a soldier.”

Wilbur Ramsey

Wilbur Ramsey, a pioneer in Georgia’ poultry industry and former president of L&R Farms, died in July at age 90.

Ramsey was a highly decorated World War II veteran who won the Silver Star for his leadership during a battle with Japanese forces on Dutch New Guinea.

He started L&R Farms in the mid-1950s with his cousin, Bob Latham. The business began in broiler hens and shifted to egg production.

Ramsey was also instrumental in expansion of Northeast Georgia Medical Center, for which he served as a board member and chairman.

David Sloyer

Road Atlanta designer and founder David Sloyer died in early December at age 69.

The race car enthusiast and Topeka, Kan., native traveled the country racing cars before establishing Road Atlanta in Braselton in 1969.

He remained at the track as vice president and general manager until 1979. In 1970, he received an award from the State of Georgia Athletic Hall of Fame as a finalist for Sports Executive of the Year in recognition of his achievements as Road Atlanta founder.

The Rev. Eddie Stephens

The Rev. Eddie Stephens of Gainesville, father of a Gainesville woman killed in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, died in May after a brief illness. He was 88.

Edna Stephens, Stephens’ daughter, was in the Pentagon when a hijacked jetliner tore into the Defense Department headquarters at 9:37 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. The suicide terrorist attack killed 184 at the Arlington, Va., complex.

Eddie Stephens told The Times in September 2006, just before the fifth anniversary of the attacks, that his daughter used to help him fixing up old cars, a hobby the man kept up even after her death.

“I think about her a lot. And how she had to go,” he said at the time. “The way she had to go, that’s what I don’t understand.”
The Lord “he gives and he takes away,” the retired pastor said.

Eddie Stephens was 12th of 16 children and answered the call to preach at age 16. A member of Antioch Baptist Church, he had pastored churches in Lumpkin County, Commerce, Homer, Ila, Carnesville, Royston and Lavonia. He also preached across the South and Midwest.

Eddie Stephens served in World War II as a U.S. Army combat medic in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater. On Aug. 6, 1945, he was an eyewitness to the atomic bomb blast that destroyed Hiroshima.

Herbert Valentine

H.E. “Herb” Valentine, who practiced internal medicine in Gainesville for more than 40 years, died in early January at age 91.

Valentine was a member of the first medical staff of the Hall County Hospital, later named Northeast Georgia Medical Center. He served as the hospital’s chief of staff and was president of the Hall County Medical Society.

The physician was an ardent supporter of Gainesville High School athletics. In 2007, the district honored him with the naming of the Herbert Valentine Center, a weight-training facility located on the high school campus.

The Navy man and World War II veteran began his practice in Gainesville in 1953 and made house calls to patients in rural areas of Dawson and Forsyth counties. Often his patients could offer only garden vegetables or a jar of honey in payment.

“He was the most generous, caring, unassuming man I’ve ever known,” said his son, Dick Valentine.

Marvin Vandiver

Marvin Vandiver, a longtime bailiff in Hall County Superior Court and former GBI agent, died in January at age 82.

Vandiver was special agent in charge of the GBI’s Athens agents before retiring and considered an expert in auto theft crimes. He later spent 14 years as a bailiff, most recently for Judge Kathlene Gosselin.

Former GBI Director Robbie Hamrick called Vandiver “a GBI agent’s GBI agent. “I learned a lot just from sharing an office with him,” Hamrick said.

Vandiver’s casket was draped in a Georgia flag in tribute to the state he loved.

Compiled from Times reports by staff members Stephen Gurr, Jessica Jordan, Ashley Fielding and Edie Rogers.