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A final curtain call for 'one fine real estate attorney'
Melvin takes spotlight, whether closing on a house or playing Daddy Warbucks
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The Hunt Tower atrium buzzes Thursday afternoon with well-wishers for retiring attorney John Melvin. Through a 40-year career in Gainesville, Melvin has handled the closing of an estimated 10,000 properties.

When John Melvin put down his law books, he picked up the trumpet.

It isn't the same trumpet he last played at the Orange Bowl in 1960 as a member of the University of Georgia Dixie Redcoat marching band. That one was donated to his high school alma mater in Jefferson.

He hasn't got his trumpeter's lip back. In fact, he is only renting a horn until he decides if his renewed interested is long-lasting.

As a lawyer, Melvin, 69, is well-respected as a knowledgeable real estate attorney. In legal circles, he was not a toot-your-own-horn guy.

He often is recognized in public for his recurring role as fictitious New York millionaire Oliver Warbucks in local productions of the musical, "Annie."

"I think he's best known as ‘Daddy Warbucks,'" said retired U.S. District Court Judge Sidney O. Smith, who was one of many attending a reception Thursday night marking Melvin's retirement from the law firm of Stewart, Melvin and Frost.

"But he is one fine real estate attorney," Smith added.

Melvin, an talented vocalist with a rich bass voice, easily could have had a career in music. His father, Marshall, was an accomplished saxophonist, who once had a dance band in the swing era. His mother, Johnnie Frances, was a trained organist and pianist who played for the First Presbyterian Church of Jefferson for more than 40 years.

There was always music in that home at 120 Lawrenceville St., but it would be other pursuits in the future for the young man his neighbors knew as Johnny.

While still an undergraduate, Melvin and his father had a long discussion that led to a degree in finance and a later decision to go on to law school, both at the University of Georgia.

Because of his boyhood friend, Woody Stewart, Melvin would come to Gainesville in 1968 to begin private practice after a three-year stint in the U.S. Air Force.

The firm, then known as Telford, Wayne & Stewart, was headed by the late Joe Telford, who Melvin considers a mentor. In those days, the practice was located in the sparkling new First National Bank building on Green Street.

In those days, Jeff Wayne, a partner in the firm, also served as solicitor of Superior Court. Melvin had a few occasions to make appearances in criminal proceedings, but found his niche in real estate.
He hasn't kept an exact count, but Melvin estimates that over the 40 years, he handled between 8,000 and 10,000 real estate closings.

"Most of them were very happy occasions," he said.

He tells the story of a young couple who came in to close on their first home. The husband had a paper bag, which he tucked under the conference room table. When the closing was over, he asked Melvin if they could toast their new home with a bottle of champagne inside the bag. Without any glasses, Melvin rounded up a few Styrofoam cups and the new home was saluted.

In a 40-year career, Melvin has seen a few economic ups and downs.

"I remember in the early 1980s, we were closing homes with interest rates of 12 and 15 percent and the prime rate was 18 percent," he said.

He said that while he will no longer be a part of it, he is concerned about the current housing market.
"I don't know that I've ever seen foreclosures as high as they are right now," he said.

John Melvin was born in Baltimore, where his mother and father first met. As the war was ending, they decided to come South, first to Atlanta and then to his mother's hometown of Jefferson, where he would grow up.

"Jefferson will always be home," he said.

He grew up living next door to his maternal grandparents, the Turners.

"I was the first grandchild and I was probably spoiled from birth," he said. He treasures his boyhood in Jefferson and has many Gainesville friends and colleagues who also grew up there.

Melvin recalls watching a Jefferson High football star named Curtis Segars, who would go on to become principal of Gainesville High School and later chairman of the Hall County Commission.

He has joined a band called the Believers Band that practices weekly at First United Methodist Church. If he rekindles his trumpet-playing ability, he plans to buy one and put it to regular use.

He also is dusting off his golf clubs and has been invited to join a couple of regular golfing groups.

Also on the agenda is a return to the stage this summer in the Pam Ware Summer Theater production of "Annie Warbucks," the sequel to "Annie."

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