A cel­e­bra­tion of the life and legacy of Zachary Earl Wans­ley

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - DICK YARBROUGH

This week marks the 10th an­niver­sary of the loss of our old­est grand­son, Zachary Earl Wans­ley. Zack was 20 at the time he col­lapsed and died while train­ing for the At­lanta Marathon.

Run­ning was not a new thing for Zack. He grew up run­ning. He was cap­tain of his high school cross-coun­try team. His dad was a coach in the sport and his brother, Nick, is cur­rently a cross-coun­try coach him­self.

He was a true scholar-ath­lete, a ju­nior at Ge­or­gia Tech and a proud and un­re­pen­tant Yel­low Jacket in a fam­ily of Bull­dogs who could more than hold his own with a bunch of woof-woofers.

Only a few months be­fore tragedy be­fell us, Zack and I took a trip to Yan­kee Sta­dium and Fen­way Park in Bos­ton where we were treated like royalty by the lo­cal fans when they dis­cov­ered we had trav­eled up from Ge­or­gia to see their beloved base­ball teams play.

In Bos­ton, a guy who seemed to func­tion as the group leader of the row on which we were seated, had every­body be­tween us and the aisle stand up so we could leave first af­ter the game and re­ceive high-fives as we de­parted. An unforgettable ex­pe­ri­ence.

My grand­sons are big, strap­ping guys who know not to ex­pect a hand­shake from their grand­fa­ther. Only hugs. Whether that em­bar­rasses them or not is ir­rel­e­vant. I hug.

My last contact with Zack came as he was leav­ing our house. He stuck out his hand to say good­bye, re­mem­bered the rules and we had a hug. That hug will last me a life­time.

I ei­ther can’t or won’t deal with the de­tails of the day we lost him. For some rea­son, my mind blanks out. It is just as well. It doesn’t change any­thing.

One of the first calls I re­ceived was from my hero, former Gov. Carl San­ders. He had re­cently lost a grand­son to leukemia. He said no one should out­live their chil­dren or grand­chil­dren. I agree. I never ex­pected that to hap­pen.

In my first col­umn af­ter los­ing Zack, I said I could never tease about Ge­or­gia Tech again. It hurt too much. That drew a re­sponse from Tech fans say­ing that would not be Zack’s wishes. On his be­half, they said they could dish it out as well as take it and to bring it on. That was pure class. Maybe it was no co­in­ci­dence that Tech upset Ge­or­gia that year in Athens, of all places. Is it pos­si­ble that God is not a Bull­dog af­ter all?

I don’t know about other colum­nists and their read­ers, but I feel a very spe­cial and per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with you. We have laughed to­gether and cried to­gether. You have fussed at me when you thought I needed it and praised me when you thought I had earned it. You have re­minded me that my words can have an im­pact. But so can yours.

I re­cently re­ceived a let­ter from a reader in Cobb County, Jack Har­ris. Last Novem­ber, two of his sons were killed in a head-on col­li­sion on I-16 as they were on their way back to Ge­or­gia South­ern Univer­sity fol­low­ing their Thanks­giv­ing break. He said it had taken him nine months to find the right words to say in re­sponse to a col­umn I had writ­ten on that tragedy. It was worth the wait.

Mr. Har­ris said. “My life is now di­vided into the time be­fore Novem­ber 26, 2017, and the time af­ter that date. I clearly see the fu­til­ity of most things over which we ar­gue, worry, or be­come an­gered. I see sit­u­a­tions that peo­ple fail to for­give over and in­stead dis­tress over, and I say to my­self, ‘Why can’t they see? None of it mat­ters.’ I see peo­ple los­ing life­long friends over po­lit­i­cal is­sues and mi­nor dis­agree­ments. I see all the need­less pain we cause each other, and there­fore our­selves, and am at a loss as to why hu­mans seem in­ca­pable of let­ting go of the small­est slight.”

Maybe you can’t grasp what he is try­ing to tell us be­cause you haven’t been through what he and his fam­ily have been through and what my fam­ily and I have ex­pe­ri­enced. Life can be short, un­pre­dictable and cruel. Don’t waste a minute of it grind­ing over the small stuff. Yes­ter­day is gone and we aren’t guar­an­teed a to­mor­row. To­day is pre­cious. Live it well and make the world just a bit bet­ter be­cause you were here. And what­ever you do, hug those you love. Al­ways, al­ways hug.

You can reach Dick Yarbrough at [email protected]­yarbrough.com; at P.O. Box 725373, At­lanta, Ge­or­gia, 31139 or on Face­book at



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