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Girl Scouts crown Mathis as a Woman of Distinction
Frances Miller Mathis was honored as the Girl Scouts’ 2009 Woman of Distinction during a luncheon Thursday at the Gainesville First United Methodist Church. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Frances Miller Mathis, who came from a mountain valley to Gainesville and established a long history of civic involvement, was honored Thursday as the Girl Scouts’ Woman of Distinction.

The annual award was presented during a luncheon at First United Methodist Church that featured remarks by Mathis’ cousin, former Georgia governor and U.S. Sen. Zell Miller of Young Harris. He spoke of their younger days in the Choestoe valley of Union County.

"It was a childhood I cherish," Miller said, "and I replay it often in the theater of my mind."

But he credited his cousin for her individual efforts, aside from those with her husband, James, a pioneering banker in Gainesville.

"Frances has had a long and productive life, filled with love and dedication," Miller said. "I have noticed that a big part of her job description has been to take her husband, James, ideas and dreams and turn them into reality. What a team these two have made for over a half a century."

But Miller said his cousin has made her own impact.

"She has served on state committees and worked on boards and on programs to preserve our national forests," Miller said. He also noted her efforts to establish the Northeast Georgia History Center and the Quinlan Arts Center.

He said that she had cooked for "thousands of folks over the years," ranging from prayer breakfasts to future presidents of the U.S.

Miller said Mathis’ peach ice cream and lemon squares played a role in bringing the Olympic rowing and kayaking competition to Gainesville.

Mathis was humble in accepting her award.

"I feel it has been a great honor to live in Hall County and Gainesville for 60-plus years," she said. "It has given us great opportunities for occupation, education, religion and many other things. But the thing I appreciate the most is that it gave us a wonderful place to raise our three boys."

While they moved to the foothills, the Mathis family has never lost its love for the mountains. James and Frances Mathis have been involved in the preservation of the homeplace of Georgia poet Byron Herbert Reece.

In earlier times, they have hiked all of the Appalachian Trail in Georgia. She was a founding member of the Chattahoochee-Oconee Interpretative Association, and the couple was honored in the 1980s as National Volunteers of the Year during a ceremony at the White House.

James Mathis, a longtime Gainesville civic leader, was president of Home Federal Savings and Loan Association, which later became a bank and was acquired by SunTrust. He was on hand for Thursday’s luncheon along with two of their three sons.