Philip Wilheit Sr. still chuckles at the memory of his close friend, L. Wayne Abernathy, preparing to speak at a business function, following on the heels of an especially eloquent speaker.
“I feel like a tugboat following the Queen Mary,” Abernathy told the crowd.
Abernathy “was full of those lines,” he said. “He had a great sense of humor and great work ethic.”
Family and friends are remembering the longtime area businessman, inventor and public servant, who died Saturday, Nov. 24, at Northeast Georgia Medical Center. He was 80.
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, according to his obituary.
He would go on to buy Diane Foods, which became Diago Mexican Foods.
“He was also a great customer of ours,” said Wilheit, president of Wilheit Packaging in Gainesville. “He was as honest as the day is long, and he was fun to work with.”
Abernathy later sold Diago to Mission Foods. After retirement, he opened Eagle’s Nest Pottery in Cleveland and Gainesville.
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.
Named small businessman of the year in 1984, Abernathy also served on boards at Gainesville Junior College (now University of North Georgia’s Gainesville campus), Lanier Technical College and East Hall High School.
Known as “Buddy” to his grandchildren, Abernathy, who lived in Lula, attended Victory Baptist Church.
“He loved his country, his family and had a passion for woodworking,” his obituary says. “Most of all, he loved the Lord, reading his Bible with (wife) Ruby in the mornings.”
Abernathy “was very concerned about where his friends and family would spend eternity.”
“My dad was our family patriarch,” said his son, John Wayne Abernathy, who has been in the funeral business for 26 years. “He was our backbone.”
He recalled, “I would call my dad about every morning and tell him what was going on, and he’d give me advice. Already, I miss those phone calls.”
Funeral services will be held 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27, at Victory Baptist Church in Gainesville.