Hon­or­ing the mem­ory of a spe­cial per­son in a spe­cial way

The Catoosa County News - - COMMENTARY - Dick Yar­brough

This week marks the ninth an­niver­sary of the loss of our old­est grand­son, Zack Wans­ley. And, yes, it hurts as much to­day as on the day he col­lapsed and died while train­ing for a marathon.

Zack was spe­cial. He was a true scholar-ath­lete. He was pres­i­dent of just about ev­ery sig­nif­i­cant or­ga­ni­za­tion in his high school. He won the Jour­nal Cup as his school’s Out­stand­ing Se­nior. Zack was proof that one could get a qual­ity public school ed­u­ca­tion if will­ing to work for it. He is one rea­son that I am so hawk­ish on public ed­u­ca­tion and re­main in­tractable re­gard­ing those politi­cians who would rather cut-an­drun from what ails our public schools rather than try to fix the prob­lems. I saw what Zack ac­com­plished in the class­room and know it can be done.

Zack was also an un­re­pen­tant and un­apolo­getic Ge­or­gia Tech Yel­low Jacket in a fam­ily of Ge­or­gia Bull­dogs. He was a Tech man through and through and, as usual, he was ex­celling aca­dem­i­cally when his life was cut short.

As this week ap­proached, I asked my­self how could I best honor his mem­ory. I could wal­low in self-pity or I could try to do some­thing that would please the dick­ens out of him; some­thing up­beat and more in keep­ing with his sunny per­son­al­ity. Zack didn’t do mop­ing. He en­joyed ev­ery minute of his life and ex­pected every­one else to do so, as well.

So, I thought what if his grand­fa­ther, him­self an un­re­pen­tant and un­apolo­getic Ge­or­gia Bull­dog, in­vited a cou­ple of Ge­or­gia Tech Yel­low Jack­ets to his home to talk about Zack and about his beloved school? Talk about the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice. I felt Zack would be im­pressed that his grand­fa­ther loved him so much that he would en­dure a cou­ple of hours of lis­ten­ing to Tech talk. Greater love hath no grand­fa­ther.

Guy Arledge was a col­league of mine at Bel­lSouth and a 1971 grad­u­ate of Ge­or­gia Tech. One of his claims to fame — other than sur­viv­ing my mer­cu­rial man­age­ment style — was the cre­ation and con­struc­tion of a toy model of the Ram­blin’ Wreck au­to­mo­bile and giv­ing the idea to the Ge­or­gia Tech Alumni As­so­ci­a­tion, which hadn’t thought of it but has since sold tens of thou­sands of the repli­cas. Typ­i­cal of Guy Arledge, he didn’t de­mand a cut of the pro­ceeds. He just thought it was the right thing to do be­cause he loves his alma mater.

Rep. Bert Reeves, a 2000 grad­u­ate of Ge­or­gia Tech, is an at­tor­ney and a sec­ond-term mem­ber of the Leg­is­la­ture, rep­re­sent­ing the Ma­ri­etta area. I got to know him af­ter his her­culean ef­fort to up­date Ge­or­gia’s ar­cane adop­tion laws only to see his good works high-jacked at the last minute by op­po­nents of same-sex mar­riages.

In our con­ver­sa­tions, I was im­pressed with his knowl­edge and pas­sion for the sub­ject and his com­mit­ment to im­prove our state’s adop­tion pro­cesses. I found him a se­ri­ous and but­tonED-downed young man who gives pol­i­tics a good name.

What I didn’t know is there was an­other Bert Reeves. This one went by the name of Buzz, the Ge­or­gia Tech mas­cot, and he was any­thing but se­ri­ous and but­ton-downed. “My job as mas­cot was to push the en­ve­lope,” he said, “and some­times I pushed it a bit too far.” Nonethe­less, his an­tics got him named an All-Amer­i­can mas­cot.

He re­galed us with sto­ries about his ex­pe­ri­ences as Buzz, some of which can’t be re­peated (ex­cept when he to­tally — and ac­ci­den­tally — dis­rupted a live ESPN pregame show and when he cold-cocked an­other team’s mas­cot at half­time, a blowhard Yan­kee who had pre­vi­ously de­rided him and re­ferred to him as For­rest Gump.)

Arledge and Reeves had never met un­til they showed up at my house. Even though they grad­u­ated in dif­fer­ent decades, their ex­pe­ri­ences were re­mark­ably sim­i­lar — pro­fes­sors who were to be­come great in­flu­ences in their lives, class­room chal­lenges they weren’t sure they would sur­vive but did, and the sat­is­fac­tion they feel from hav­ing at­tained their de­gree from Ge­or­gia Tech.

As hard as it is to ad­mit, it was a fun ses­sion with a lot of sto­ries and a lot of laughs. It was the per­fect way to honor the mem­ory of Zachary Earl Wans­ley. There is no doubt he was lis­ten­ing in that day and beam­ing all over.

As they were leav­ing, I felt it my eth­i­cal duty to in­form them that I had taken co­pi­ous notes — with a redand-black UGA pen­cil. I can as­sure you that Zack would have ex­pected no less from his grand­fa­ther.

You can reach Dick Yar­brough at dick@dick­yarbrough.com; at P.O. Box 725373, At­lanta, Ge­or­gia 31139; on­line at dick­yarbrough.com or on Face­book at www. face­book.com/dick­yarb.

Philoso­pher & pun­dit

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