For Robert Jenkins, they were all golden years.
Jenkins, a third-generation gold miner and one of the last living remainders of Dahlonega's gold-mining history, died Thursday after a brief illness. He was 89.
"We've lost a legend," said Dahlonega Mayor Gary McCullough.
Robin Glass, an interpretive ranger at the Dahlonega Gold Museum, called Jenkins "the ambassador of Dahlonega's gold history across the state and nation."
"He was a walking authority on mining, recovery of gold and mining operations," Glass said.
Said longtime friend Wes Sarginson, "There was no better spokesman for the gold story. He was the epitome of what a gold miner should look like and act like."
Jenkins, a colorful character, was rarely seen without his customary outfit of overalls, which often contained a huge nugget of gold he would show to trusted acquaintances. He delighted in teaching visitors how to pan for gold and regale them with stories of his gold-mining heritage, which began with his grandfather, George Washington "Wash" Jenkins, who mined gold in the earthen streets of Dahlonega in 1894.
His father, Tom Jenkins, mined for gold at Tanyard Branch and Crown Mountain. Robert Jenkins worked in some of Lumpkin County's last active mines in the 1950s.
In later years, Jenkins showed visitors how to pan for gold in two tourist attractions on Ga. 60, the Gold Hills of Dahlonega and the Gold Miner's Camp.
In the book "I Remember Dahlonega," Jenkins said, "all the folks who come to pan ... always find some color in their pans if they know how to keep from losing it. That's because I know where to get the ore. There's still gold in these hills, but the big part of mining is over for Lumpkin County because they're building right over the gold."
Indeed, Jenkins seemed to have a sixth sense for finding gold, said Bill Hardman, who employed Jenkins at his tourist attractions and took him to out-of-state trade shows. "He knew where the gold veins were," Hardman said.
Jenkins employed a dry wit and gift for storytelling to go along with his talent for panning gold.
One of his favorite sayings referred to the use of nitrogylcerin in mine-blasting operations. "Mister, you ain't had a headache till you had a dynamite headache," Jenkins would say.
"He entertained thousands and thousands of tourists, and not only that, he taught thousands to pan for gold," Hardman said.
The children Jenkins taught to pan would grow up to have children of their own learn from him, said his daughter, Marie Satterfield. "He loved seeing the looks on their faces when they found a little speck of gold," she said. "If he could talk about gold to someone, he was a happy person. He just loved people and he had the love for gold that was his life."
Jenkins and his wife, Allene, who died in 1993, served as the Dahlonega Gold Rush King and Queen on at least one occasion. Jenkins was honored in recent years with a proclamation from the city making it "Robert Jenkins Day." A picture of him hangs in city hall.
All the honors and accolades, while appreciated, weren't as treasured as the friendships he built over the years, said Sarginson, a news anchor for WXIA-TV who featured Jenkins in several broadcasts.
"He was just a genuine, affable man who loved to see his friends as often as possible," Sarginson said. "He was a treasure."
Jenkins is survived by two daughters, Marie Satterfield and Shirley Knight; a son, Robert Jenkins Jr.; two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. A visitation will be held all day today at Banister Funeral Home in Dahlonega. Funeral services are scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at the funeral home.