Philip Wilheit remembers a December day when Wilbur Ramsey returned a tenant’s rent payment.
That moment years ago illustrated the type of person Ramsey was, Wilheit said.
"She gave him cash money and he gave her a receipt, and then he turned around and gave her the money back and said ‘buy your children something for Christmas with this,’" Wilheit recalled.
Ramsey, former president of L&R Farms, died Thursday at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. He was 90.
The lifelong Hall County resident was a highly-decorated World War II veteran and a pioneer in the state’s poultry industry, according to a statement issued by U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Gainesville.
"Wilbur Ramsey was one of those who was a pioneer in Georgia’s poultry and egg industry," Deal said in a written statement. "He also contributed to the success of Northeast Georgia Health System and was involved in laying the groundwork that created a regional center for health care in our part of the state."
During World War II, Ramsey served in combat for three years without leave. He served as a regimental supply officer and a foot soldier of the legendary "Bushmasters" unit in the South Pacific.
Ramsey’s unit was the first to storm a Japanese-held island, and he was awarded the Silver Star for his leadership during an engagement on Dutch New Guinea. He also received two battle stars, a Bronze Arrow Head and the Philippine Liberation Medal.
After he returned from the war, Ramsey’s first cousin, Bob Latham, helped him start L&R Farms in the mid-1950s. The two men worked together, shifting from the business of broiler hens to eggs, until their retirements in the 1990s.
"Neither one of us had any money when we started," Latham said.
Latham said their business ventures together predate L&R Farms. During their college days, both Ramsey and Latham worked at a dry-cleaning service and as ushers at University of Georgia football games.
Ramsey, a senior at the university when Latham was a freshman, made the dry cleaning job possible for his younger cousin.
"I had it a little easier, because he taught me some of the things he’d been doing," Latham said with a laugh.
Later in his career, Ramsey served for 19 years on the board of Northeast Georgia Medical Center. He was chairman of the hospital authority during the center’s major reorganization in 1986, said John Ferguson, former chief executive officer of the hospital.
Ramsey’s advice and leadership were valuable when the hospital dealt with challenging issues, Ferguson said.
"He would always say ‘all you’ve got to do is
be honest and do the very best you can and do what’s right,’" Ferguson recalled.
Wilheit later replaced Ramsey as chairman of the hospital board.
Wilheit said he and Ramsey gravitated toward each other early. They both attended the same church, and when Wilheit entered the business world, he and Ramsey spent a lot of time together, he said.
"He was almost like another father to me," Wilheit said. "... I’d go out there a lot of times and just spend two or three hours in his office talking with him. My father passed away in ’91 and Wilbur came to help fill that role when I needed some mentoring and some advice."
Although there were 20 years between them, Ferguson said he also valued Ramsey’s friendship. The former hospital CEO planned to visit Ramsey on a trip to the hospital Friday, but learned of Ramsey’s death upon his arrival.
"It’s kind of a sad time, you know?" Ferguson said. "But he had a long, fun-filled, successful life, and I guess that’s about as much as any of us can hope for."
A memorial service will be held for Ramsey from 7 to 9 tonight at the Northeast Georgia History Center. Ramsey will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Dixie Chester Ramsey, and a daughter.