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Remembering local figures who died in 2018
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The following is a compilation of notable local figures who died in 2018.

Joe Whitaker, Jan. 24

Whitaker was a former Piedmont Hotel manager and Longstreet Society treasurer.

C.J. Clarke IV, of the Longstreet Society, said Whitaker was detailed in telling stories to visitors.

“He had a mind that was incredible,” Clarke said. “He knew Gainesville history.”

On more than one occasion, a visitor who came back to the Piedmont Hotel would remember Whitaker but not his name. Clarke said they would ask, “Is that man that knows everything here?”

W. Ray Cleere, Jan. 26

Cleere was president of Piedmont College in Demorest from 1995 to 2011.

In 1962, he joined the Georgia Department of Education and in 1982 became vice chancellor of academic affairs for the University System of Georgia.

Upon retirement from Piedmont, he taught graduate courses there and served as a trustee of Rabun Gap-Nacoochee School.

Michael Shannon, March 10

Shannon was a longtime Hall County optometrist who operated clinics in Flowery Branch and Cumming.

Shannon was the third generation of optometrists in his family, following his father and grandfather, and including his brother. He opened his first office in Buford in 1988 and relocated it to Flowery Branch in 2009.

“I’ve known Mike for over 40 years,” state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, said just after his death. “I knew him as a college student, a business person, a father and a husband and I have to tell you, you would be hard pressed to find a better man than Mike Shannon.”

Billy Martin, March 14

Martin was a Heisman Trophy finalist at Georgia Tech and a Gainesville High sports legend.

Former teammates still remember Martin as The Jolly Giant, a nickname he earned in high school for his towering frame and infectious personality.

Martin was a tight end and defensive end, part of a formidable duo alongside quarterback/kicker Billy Lothridge, another local legend who went on to play at Georgia Tech and in the professional ranks.

Martin spent two years with the Bears before the Atlanta Falcons plucked him away in the 1966 NFL Expansion Draft. He played two seasons in his home state as well, and wrapped up his professional playing career with the Minnesota Vikings in 1968.

Lillie Mae Green, March 22

Green,  with her husband, Frank, opened Green’s Grocery in 1950 in Gainesville.

The Greens were well-known for their philanthropy in the community. In 2001, they gave a $4 million gift from the estate of their son, Ronnie, for what became the Ronnie Green Heart Center at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

Zell Miller, March 23

Former Gov. Zell Miller was remembered by local leaders as a giant from Northeast Georgia and a strong-willed, strong-talking governor who didn’t shy away from political battles with other well-established politicians in Atlanta.

He served as Georgia’s governor and lieutenant governor, a U.S. senator for Georgia, a state senator and a mayor of Young Harris in a public service career spanning from 1959 to 2005. Miller, who oversaw the creation of the HOPE scholarship, remains the longest-serving lieutenant governor in Georgia history.

Walt Snelling, March 28

Snelling was the voice of Gainesville High Red Elephants athletics for more than three decades.

“Out of my 38 years at Gainesville High School, he’s the No. 1 Red Elephant fan of all-time,” said Wayne Vickery, a former Gainesville coach and athletic director and close friend of Snelling.

From the early 1980s until 2014, Snelling was the man behind the microphone for the Red Elephants. He called football, baseball, basketball and occasionally other sports.

Fred Richards, June 14

Richards served as a Flowery Branch councilman, having first been elected in April 2012 in a special election.

Officials remembered him as a public servant passionate about improving life in the South Hall town.

“He was someone I could always trust to give me an honest assessment of what I was asking about, not just what you want to hear,” Flowery Branch Mayor Mike Miller said.

William O'Kelley, July 5

O’Kelley served as a senior U.S. District judge.

“I’ve always heard from lawyers that I know that he’s always been considered firm but fair in the courtroom, and I think Dad always took pride in that description,” son William C. “Bo” O’Kelley Jr. said just after his father’s death.

According to Emory University, O’Kelley was nominated by President Richard Nixon in 1970 to the federal court for the Northern District of Georgia. He previously worked as an assistant U.S. attorney.

Tom Crawford, July 18

Crawford was known as the dean of state Capitol journalists and documented Georgia politics over more than three decades. His column published weekly in The Times and other newspapers.

He pioneered a business model in Georgia that delivered news to two distinct audiences: an online subscription service geared largely to Gold Dome insiders and a weekly column featuring unvarnished analysis of state politics that was syndicated to mostly smaller and medium-size newspapers.

Billy Hardman, July 31

Hardman opened his own medical practice in Gainesville in 1948 at the age of 28, becoming the city’s 13th doctor at the time.

To expand medical services in Hall County, he was one of a team of local physicians who lobbied in Washington, D.C., for funding for the Hall County Hospital, which opened in 1951. He was also influential in the founding of the Hall County School of Nursing, which graduated its first class in 1963 and is now the Brenau University School of Nursing.

Justin Pressley, Aug. 3

Pressley was a community advocate for the disabled in Gainesville and founder of the North Georgia Screamin’ Eagles power soccer team.

Pressley suffered a spinal cord injury in a motorcycle accident at age 16 that left him quadriplegic. He turned his disability into a quest to improve the lives of others facing similar challenges.

Pressley was co-founder of the Disability Resource Center in Gainesville and Access to a Better Tomorrow, nonprofit organizations that provide independent living support.

Don Panoz, Sept. 11

Panoz was an entrepreneur who founded Chateau Elan and area motorsports businesses.

His career began in 1961 when he co-founded Milan Pharmaceuticals in West Virginia. In the 1970s, he created Elan Corp. in Ireland, which maintained an office in Gainesville until a merger in 2011. He owned and operated Chateau Elan off Old Winder Highway/Ga. 211 and Interstate 85 in Braselton until selling it earlier this year to a Connecticut firm.

Panoz also owned and operated the popular racetrack Road Atlanta, which is off Winder Highway/Ga. 53 in Braselton in South Hall. He sold the track in 2012.

Chris Jones, Oct. 25

Jones was the co-founder of Monkey Barrel, a former downtown Gainesville eatery known for its pizza, wide array of craft beers and garlic knots. Jones and his wife Mary opened the restaurant at 111 Washington St. NE in August 1993, six months after they married. They owned Monkey Barrel for more than 20 years.

Wayne Abernathy, Nov. 24

Abernathy began his career at Georgia Chair and later worked at Chicopee Manufacturing. He later invented and patented a deboning machine that was sold nationally and internationally.

He would go on to buy Diane Foods, which became Diago Mexican Foods and was later sold to Mission Foods.

Serving under five governors, he was in his 37th year on Georgia’s Board of Public Safety. Georgia State Patrol Post 6 on Cleveland Highway was dedicated to him in December 2009.

Compiled by Keith Albertson and Shannon Casas

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