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Like father, like son
Men learned many life lessons from namesake
Joe Wood Jr., standing, and Joe Wood Sr. - photo by Tom Reed

For most of us there is that moment in adulthood when we find ourselves sounding like our parents.

Perhaps that’s not a bad thing.

On this day we set aside to honor fathers, we present the thoughts of three prominent Gainesville business and civic leaders who not only share their father’s words, they also share his name.

James "Jim" Mathis Jr., Joe T. Wood Jr. and John Vardeman Jr. are the scions of three men who have left a long-lasting imprint on the community.

The senior Mathis was the president of Home Federal Savings and Loan Association, which eventually became what is now SunTrust. He is best known for his many civic contributions, including being a driving force behind the creation of what is now Gainesville State College.

His son, Jim, followed him for a number of years in the banking field and is now president and chief executive of the North Georgia Community Foundation.

"I learned from my dad the importance of being persistent and the value of community," said Jim Mathis.

"Many years ago, my father gave me a plaque that now hangs in my office with a quote from President Calvin Coolidge."

The plaque reads: "Press on, nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not: unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education alone will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."

The junior Mathis said he saw the example of community involvement in both his grandfather and father. The family tradition of service to community is evident in the fourth generation through Jim’s daughters, Kelly Lee and Katie Dubnik.

"If anything describes my dad, it is a commitment to his community," said Jim Mathis. "I observed the leadership roles he took in civic projects and the tremendous difference he made. From Gainesville State College to the Community Chest, now United Way, to Boy Scouts, his work made this a better place to live, work and raise a family."

Joe T. Wood Sr. came home from his service in World War II and found success in both the business and political arena. Wood was a principal of the insurance firm Turner, Wood & Smith. He spent 23 years in the state House and served many of those years as chairman of the Defense and Veterans Affairs Committee.

Joe Wood Jr., who is now president of the insurance firm, said he learned much from his father, both as a son and as an employee at the insurance company.

"I learned from my dad to be very loyal to your friends, that every customer is important both large and small, to remember those who helped you coming up and always pay your bills on time," said the younger Wood.

He said the last of those, paying bills, was something his father was a stickler about. "He also believes that you should always give to the church," Joe Jr. said.

For 31 years, they have been in business together, with his father as boss in the beginning. While the son is now holding the top spot, he’s not up to telling his dad, who still maintains occasional office hours, what to do.

"Let’s just say I don’t get on him as much as he got on me," he said.

Joe Wood considers his father a mentor both personally and professionally.

"I’ve had a great foundation to build from," he said.

For John Vardeman, watching his father, Johnny, as an editor at The Times was enough to kindle his interest in journalism.

"Fathers are so important because they are a role model," said John Vardeman. "From the start, it’s obvious that I wanted to be like my father in every way because I followed the path into writing and journalism. I think that growing up around him, I saw how hard he worked and that would be the No. 1 trait. I see myself as a hard worker. I saw that was what my father did and I knew that success didn’t come from sitting back and waiting for it to happen."

Johnny Vardeman, who served for many years as The Times’ editor, had a distinguished career in journalism. His son would later follow him into the profession, including working as a staff writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

As a child, the younger Vardeman was taught the basics of grammar through word and spelling games with his father.

"I’m doing the same thing with my children," John Vardeman said. "I learned so much of growing up in a household with my mother as a teacher and my father as a journalist. He, too, was a teacher and role model."

But Vardeman Jr. said he learned from his father’s example of integrity.

"It was nothing that he preached to me, he just did it by example," he said.

Vardeman said his father was long with words on paper, but short on spoken words.

"He writes more than he talks," John Vardeman said. "He is a good listener and he felt like you couldn’t understand something unless you listened and asked questions."

The younger Vardeman, who now owns an advertising and public relations firm, said that while he followed his father into the world of media, he believes Johnny Vardeman’s greatest example to him was in how to be a father.