I was 21 the first time I met Babe. My Pop had been gone for a little over 3 years and I hugged Babe's neck a little tighter than I might have for a first time hug because he smelled just like Pop. I, along with everyone else who ever met Babe, was instantly smitten with him. He had an ease about him, a familiarity even if you had just met; he abounded in kindness and had a laugh that was so contagious I snicker now just thinking about it. And oh could he tell a story.
Tom White was a legend in his own time. The kind of man they write about. The kind of man a small town named 2 things after because he was that special and that influential. To us kids, he was known as Babe, the grandfather that handed out money and Sprite and wisdom. To much of Moultrie, Georgia, he was known as Coach. A lover of football and education, Babe invested in so many and no one was a bigger Colquitt County Packer fan. The Packers are pretty big fans of him too, naming their beloved football field after their beloved Coach. And up until about 8 years ago, if Babe wasn't talking football, he was talking running. Josh says much of his childhood was spent with Nonnie and Babe at road races that Babe couldn't get enough of. The man ran the Peachtree 10K on the 4th of July every summer until his legs literally couldn't carry him. You could be sure to find several pairs of running shoes by the back door . . . and even more sure that they would be full of baby powder. About 13 years ago, the town of Moultrie put in a running trail, and to Babe's great surprise and delight, named it for him. The man is an institution in South Georgia.
Nonnie will tell you that she fell in love with Babe in the 2nd grade. And she has loved him ever since. She caught his eye after the war and they have remained quite the pair. They honestly had the kind of love you usually only read about. I never heard them really use a cross word with each other. And all over the house are notes from him to her tucked away or taped to a mirror. Nonnie has cared faithfully for Babe over the last several years that he has been sick. And Saturday night, her grandsons moved a recliner next to his bed so she could keep vigil comfortably. In sickness and in health, 'til she was was generous enough to release him so only death could part them.
No child ever went without shoes or a coat if Babe caught wind of it. No person was ever treated as less than. No one ever walked in his door without being greeted and attended to. Babe was a generous soul. A lover of God and faithful servant. He and Nonnie raised 4 wonderful children who have given back to him in this time without a second thought. Beth and John live in town and have been there lovingly caring for him in every way imaginable. Mike visits faithfully from close by, and Ann (who lives in Valdosta) even bought a house across the street so she could be more available to help. They would all tell you it's been their greatest privilige.
Early this morning, Babe took his last labored breath. I honestly believe he entered into glory wearing a new pair of Nikes (pronounced as if it rhymes with yikes, by the way). I can imagine him running through the streets of gold, free from the body that had failed him. I am quite sure he has held an audience with the saints and told them some great stories, maybe a few of them knew enough to call "George" on him every now and then. Most of all, I am convinced that he heard our God greet him, "Well done, good and faithful servant" because there have been few better or more faithful than he.
Babe, thanks for loving me as one of your own all these years. I am a better person for having known you and been taught by you. I always think of you when I run and I look forward to a day when we can run together. Your legacy and your love will go on and we can never thank you enough for being who you were. I love you, Babe, and I count it a true honor to have called you grandfather for the last 15 years.
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