Sunday, August 12, 2007
Rosemary Whatley, the beloved wife of Dr. Edwards C. Whatley and matriarch of an incredible family, passed away last night surrounded by her husband and all of her children. I have talked about Dr. Whatley and Rosemary to thousands of people throughout the state of Georgia and throughout our country in every single speech I have ever given. I wrote about them in my book and I have written about them here. And although I was fully expecting the call, I had a hard time getting back to sleep after I hung up our phone last night.
Unless you have lived in a small town and had the same neighbors your entire life, you may not fully appreciate what I am about to write. But I understand more and more each day that there are a lot of folks who never experienced what I experienced growing up on Macon Street in the little town of Reynolds, GA. Rosemary Whatley was a major part of that experience. And the roots are strong and the roots run deep.
We lived next door to the Whatley’s. The Whatley’s had four children and my parents had four children. We all grew up as family. The two backyards were as one and we were in and out of each other’s homes to the point that we really knew no difference between the two. And there were other Whatley’s in the neighborhood and many other kids in town who were a part of it. We played together, we ate together and spent an incredible amount of time together. And my parents were intimate friends with their neighbors.
I’m not sure what it is about childhood but you never forget those days. You forget a lot of other experiences life throws at you but you never forget the most formative years of your life. At some point in my own life I realized how much I learned during those years. As I have moved forward in life I have made it my business to stay connected to my roots in Reynolds, GA. And if I have experienced any degree of success in my own life, I attribute much of it to my determination to stay connected to those roots.
As with most small towns, the kids in our neighborhood grew up, got educated and moved away. Unlike most folks that grow up and move away to different parts of the country, we have all stayed in touch throughout the years. We never quit being family. And we never will.
During the 25 or so years I lived in Reynolds as an adult a funny thing happened. My parent’s lifelong friends became my friends. What I did as a kid never stopped when I became an adult. I would stop by and walk in the Whatley’s houses unannounced and sit down for a visit. Since I was the only one of the Macon Street gang left in town, I just thought it was my place to be sure the folks were okay that were so important to us growing up. The only time I knocked on the door was when the door was locked and I couldn’t open it.
After the death of my parents, the relationship changed a bit. They were still my friends but they took on the role of parents in a new way since mine were gone. And every time I visited either set of Whatley’s it seemed I had just had a visit with my own parents. I got more than a few “thank you’s” from their children over the years for checking on their parents. But I have to admit I did it for me more than for them.
As for memories of Rosemary Whatley, there are too many to even begin to mention. As an adult, most of my memories turn to sports. She was an avid Braves fan, Georgia Bulldog fan, and golf fan. She earned the right to be a Bulldog fan since all four of her children are UGA graduates. She was a Master’s patron before golf fans knew what that word meant and was a charter member of Arnie’s Army. I have tailgated with them at their motor home on more than a few occasions on those famous fall Saturday afternoons in Athens, Ga. When Sid Bream slid into home plate to score the winning run as the Braves beat Barry Bonds and the Pittsburg Pirates to go to the World Series, she and her husband were in the stands. And they were with me. And we whooped and hollered for hours until our voices left us.
I have an incredible number of conversations with Ed and Rosemary Whatley. I told them things I would tell nobody else (except the other Whatley’s across the street). They always wanted to know about me and everything I had going on in my life. And I would tell them all. They were interested in all of it. And they considered me a son. In fact, at a Whatley reunion held in Reynolds a dozen or so years ago, I was unanimously voted into their clan as a “Whatley.”
Maybe that explains a little of why I had trouble going back to sleep last night. And maybe that explains a little of why my roots are so important to me.
Make no mistake about it, the death of Rosemary Whatley is a monumental day in my life. Another chapter of this amazing thing we call life now closes for me. She was predictable, consistent and faithful. She was the epitome of a gracious Southern lady. And she had an incredible impact on my life.
Her children called her Mom. Her grandchildren called her Meme. Most people called her Rosemary. Her close friends called her Rose. My dad called her Rosie.
If there has ever been a rose that bloomed to full beauty it was this Rose.
May this Rose rest in peace.