Stories of some of the ordinary and extraordinary people of Laurens County and East Central Georgia. They are people like us.
"Each of us were put here for a purpose, and that purpose is to build and not to destroy."
If it’s a Saturday night and you are listening to the your favorite oldies music, chances are good that you will hear the voice of Dublin’s own, Ron O’Quinn. Ron has been spinning records, pushing buttons and wise cracking jokes on the radio for all or parts of the last seven decades. He has met many of the most successful singers and rock and roll groups of the 1960s. And, many will tell you that his lively style, witty humor and musical knowledge make him one of the greatest disc jockeys in Rock and Roll music history.
Ron O’Quinn was born on March 4, 1943 in McRae, Georgia. There was a time when Ron joined the Air Explorer Scouts and dreamed of being a pilot like his father, Joe O’Quinn, who was a fighter pilot in World War II and an instructor at Spence Field in Moultrie, Georgia. Ron can’t think of a more caring mother than his own mother, Nita Adams.
As activities at the base in Moultrie began to slow down, jobs were getting scarce. One day, Ron’s life changed forever. At the age of 16, Ron took a job at a $1.50 an hour hosting a teen radio show at WMGA in Moultrie. Ron loved listening at night to the sounds of the early days of rock and roll and country music coming from radio stations in distant parts of the Southeast. The voice of one disc jockey, the legendary “John R.” Richbourg, still endures in his head.
“I don’t listen to the radio much these days. I don’t have to, because all of the songs are always up there in my head,” Ron proclaims.
During his life in the music, Ron has met many celebrities. Some of the first, were during his tenure at WMGA. They were Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, Hall of Fame songwriters who wrote many of the hits of the Everly Brothers, “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” Bye-Bye Love,” and “Wake Up Little Susie.” Boudleaux Bryant, who hailed from nearby Shellman, Georgia, teamed with his wife to write the Tennessee State Anthem, “Rocky Top.”
Ron left Moultrie in 1961 after graduation and entered the Army. During his two-year hitch in the Army, Ron, a marksman and machine gunnner, earned the esteemed title of an Army Ranger.
Ron returned to radio in 1963 when he took a job at WVLD in Valdosta. O’Quinn kept climbing the ladder by moving south in search of better paying jobs, first at WROD in Daytona and WLCY in Tampa/St, Petersburg, where he was known to his listeners as “Jack E. Rabbitt.”
O’Quinn’s first big break in radio came in August 1965. With his recording setting 60% share of the radio audience in Tampa, he was hired to work at WFUN, one of Miami’s best Top 40 Radio Stations.
While at WFUN, Ron was again at the top of this game with high ratings and emceing concerts. Once he met the Rolling Stones while introducing them at a concert. When the Stones failed to kept their promise to go on his radio show, Ron gave out their hotel room numbers to his listeners. When the police enjoined him from giving out the number, Ron exacted revenge by borrowing a waiter’s clothes, taking the rock and rollers’ drink order and leaving them stranded, but not before getting his picture made with the iconic rockers.
Once again, his success at a highly rate Top 40 radio station, led to yet another career making opportunity.
“I continued my lucky rating streak and was hired to set up the 'most powerful pirate radio stations in the world', Swinging Radio England,” Ron recalled.
These “pirate” stations broadcasted from a ship in international waters, 4 1/2 miles off the shore of Great Britain. In those days, the British Broadcasting Corporation severely limited air play of rock and roll music. With the stations beyond the limits of control of the British government, the stations blasted powerful signals throughout most of the United Kingdom to eager listeners seeking to hear their favorite tunes.
As the station’s first program director, O'Quinn altered the theretofore automated format into live radio in May 1966. Borrowing every snappy jingle, funny gimmick and every successful radio format he had ever seen and heard, Ron and his fellow DJ’s became an instant success.
“Because of the notoriety our radio stations received in Europe, I was invited to meet The Beatles at the London offices of Nems Enterprise. The meeting went well and a few days later I was asked if I wanted to attend a recording session at Abbey Road. I did, of course, and while there cleared my throat, coughed actually, on the Tax Man song,” Ron recalled.
“In August of 1966, I was asked to become a member of the Official Beatles Touring Party and accompany the Beatles from England on their American tour. This tour would be their last ever,” Ron remembered.
The tour got off to in inauspicious start when the plane took off in a terrific thunderstorm. Ron was there, along with Kenny Everett and Jerry Leighton of the other pirate stations, to give their prospective of the tour to their listeners back in England. .
Ron spent a lot of time with all of the Beatles. He developed a close relationship with all of the Fab For, but especially with John Lennon, with whom he traded rings for a while.
“John was deeply disturbed about the remark attributed to him that the Beatles were more popular than God or Jesus,” Ron remembered about Lennon, who desperately sought out to learn more about Jesus and the wonders of His love to rid himself of his demons.
“He was asked by a reporter that if the Beatles and Billy Graham were appearing at the same time, who would draw more fans, to which John instinctively replied, ‘The Beatles,’” recalled Ron, who was once used as a double for Paul McCartney to avoid an army of adoring fans.
When the tour was over, Ron had problems getting permission to return to England. The station, banned by the British government from broadcasting ads of British businesses on the pirate stations, failed and was no more in November 1966.
Ron & The Buckinghams
Ron returned to America, right back to his old job in WFUN. In the fall of 1969, he moved across the country to KYA in San Francisco, for a brief while. During his career, Ron had stints on WUBE Cincinnati and WYLD in New Orleans, O’Quinn was hired being National Program Director of Urban Stations for Rounsaville Organization, an Atlanta-based company.
In early 1971, O'Quinn became the manager of WSIZ in Ocilla, Georgia where he stayed until 1976. In 1987, after being out of the radio business for nearly a decade, Ron moved to Dublin, where he produced a weekly oldies show, “Rock and Roll Reunion,” syndicated to nearly ninety markets and heard locally over WKKZ and WQZY. His show, “Memories Unlimited ened in 2001.
In 2012, Ron, a member of the Pirate Radio Hall of Fame, was named as a Legacy Inductee into the Georgia Radio Hall of Fame.
In summing up his career in radio, this humble man merely says, “I can't believe I've been paid all these years for doing what I love.”
Ron lives just outside of Laurens County in his ancestral home of Wheeler County. From a spare bedroom, which he transformed into a studio, Ron produces another weekly show, “Rock and Roll Rewind,” which is heard all over Europe by a million or more listeners each week as well as listeners to several dozen stations in the U.S.
Ron will tell you quickly, “I have no set playlist, I just play whatever strikes me at the time,.
So on this Saturday night, get in your car, turn your radio on, ride around and listen to the music, the music of our lives.
Dr. Bartley Frank Brown, a man of many talents, died on the 1st day of November 2014, in his 98th year on this earth. A native of Dublin, Georgia, Dr. Brown’s 97-plus year life was filled with just that, life. Brown was a wizard at teaching, gardening and studying nearly every subject he wanted. He loved to burst into a song. “We’re Off To See the Wizard,” was one of his favorites.
Frank Brown was a flower child of sorts. As an educator in the 1960s, he refused to conform to the norm, preferring instead to let some students do their own thing, within limits of course. As an amateur botanist, he turned on to the beauty of tropical plants (not the smoking kind but the flowering kind.) According to some sources, it was not unusual to see this sprightly septuagenarian walking merrily barefoot through his gardens.
Born in 1917 in Dublin, Georgia to B. Frank Brown, Sr. and Martha Virginia Lowther Stanley, Dr. Brown descends from several of Laurens County’s oldest families, the Stanleys, Lowthers, Moores and McCalls. His maternal grandfather, Vivian Lee Stanley, served a long term as a Prison Commissioner of the State of Georgia and was directly involved with the extradition of Paul Burns to Georgia, which was immortalized in the 1932 movie, “I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang.”
His great-uncle, Harris McCall Stanley, who co-founded what became the Dublin Courier Herald, was Georgia’s first Labor Commissioner and is a member of the Georgia Newspaper Hall of Fame.
Thomas McCall, the progenitor of the McCall family, was Surveyor General of Georgia as a 21-year-old and is recognized as the father of modern wine making in America.
Following a stint in the Navy in World War II, Dr. Brown moved to Florida to continue his education. His career in education began in 1953 when he was named Principal of Melbourne High School and later served as Superintendent of Brevard County Schools. At Melbourne High, Brown led the way to alternative methods of learning.
Brown’s innovative procedures included nongraded programs and establishing a library which was larger than the school’s gym. His programs gave alternatives to the typical student. One former student said that he would have never graduated if Brown had not given him the go ahead to graduate after memorizing the names of all of the plants on the school’s campus. One of Brown’s forward looking innovations was the addition of Chinese to the curriculum.
On his 90th birthday in 2007, Dr. Brown was honored with the naming of the Science and Research Center of Melbourne High School in his honor.
Brown, a fervent learner, shared the fruits of teaching with the publishing of six books on education: The Non Graded High School, The Appropriate Placement School, Education by Appointment, Crisis in Secondary Education, The Transition of Youth to Adulthood and The Complete Guide to Prevention and Treatment of Athletic Injuries. His successes in education drew the attention of CBS anchor Walter Cronkite and an editor of Time Magazine, which published a feature on his educational methods.
Education was Frank Brown’s mission in life.
His passion and love was the tropical flowering plant.
Following his retirement, Dr. Brown traveled to tropical regions in Asia and around the world cataloging exotic plants, including the Aglaonema, twenty of which he hybridized and patented. A popular speaker on the botanical circuit, Brown wrote and compiled three books on tropical plants, including the first ever on the popular croton.
More than anything else, Frank Brown wanted to share the beauty of these tropical plants with the world. Living in an environment conducive to these tropical beauties, Brown enlisted the aid of Cleo Millare, his dearest friend. With Cleo’s aid as the nursery manager, Brown opened his Valkaria gardens to the public.
Brown lived on a five-acre, pine tree studded home site south of Palm Bay off Interstate Highway 95. The aging anthophile constructed a nearly two-acre garden to display his prized flowers as well give him an ideal location to continue his experiments in hybridization.
Known as a carefree and happy man by those who met him, including myself, Dr. Brown lived where he loved and loved where he lived. He would live nowhere else in the world.
During his retirement years, Brown was frequently summoned by Florida governors and education officials seeking his advice on old problems and new trends in education. And, once in a while, the President of the United States would call for guidance, presidents Kennedy, Carter and Johnson to name a few.
But now, back to the flowers. Brown, who held a couple of patents shy of thirty and the title of a Fullbright Scholar, was self taught in botany. He never had a class in botany. Brown learned what he knew by reading books, visiting gardens and observing the plants in their natural habitats. His interest in tropical plants was sparked when he took a trip to the Philippines on an assignment for the Department of Defense.
Dr. B. Frank Brown’s legacy to Melbourne and Palm Bay cannot be understated. He put his school on the map for his successful, non-traditional educational methods> His most lasting legacy, the Valkaria Gardens, will be where lovers of beautiful lush tropical flowers gather for as long as there is someone there to tend the gardens to keep the beauty of Brown’s dream alive.
On a small sandy hill, behind an old country church, there lies the body of a fallen, nearly forgotten hero. His tombstone simply reads "Paul E. Sly, November 3, 1921 to January 8, 1945." You don't know Paul Sly, but seventy years ago today, this 23-year-old, Evansville, Indiana-born, Florida-raised journeyman welder and 82nd Airborne paratrooper gave the last full measure of devotion to protect the freedoms of his family and his country. This is his story.
Paul's parents, Anzy and Thomas Benjamin Sly, in their senior years worked in a citrus cannery in the small Central Florida town of Davenport, Florida, where Paul graduated high school.
Paul Sly was drafted into the army although military service ran in Sly's blood. His grandfather, Samuel Sly, was most likely a member of the 58th Indiana Infantry, which fought in the Tennessee, Chickamauga and the March to the Sea campaigns.
Paul married Kate Johnson, daughter of Kelley and Bell Fort Johnson, in a simple ceremony held in the Baptist church in Orianna in mid June of 1940. The couple lived for a while in the Johnson community around Pleasant Springs Baptist Church on the old Savannah Road in eastern Laurens County.
With a wife to support, Paul Sly took a job in the Carolinas as a welder. In June of 1943, he was ordered to report for a physical at Carolina Beach, North Carolina. By mid-October, Sly returned to Winter Park, Florida for his induction into the U.S. Army. "If you want to make more money, join the paratroopers," the sergeant said. It was extremely dangerous duty, but Paul had a family to support according to his son, Paul, Jr., who was born in July 1944, just as his father was arriving in Europe.
Paul Sly (lower left corner) endured rigorous training assignments, achieving parachutist status on May 13, 1944. As a member of the famed 505th Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, Sly's status as a parachutist came too late to allow him to participate in the pre-dawn jump into Normandy on D-Day.
The 505th Infantry regiment, activated in 1942, participated in the campaigns of Sicily, Salerno, Normandy, the Netherlands and the Battle of the Bulge during World War II, during which the regiment received two Presidential Unit Citations, three foreign distinguished unit citations, the French fourragère, the Netherlands Military Order of William, and the Belgium fourragère.
Sly joined the 82nd in July 1944 in France. In September 1944, the unit participated in Operation Market Garden. In December, the 505th jumped into an area which would host one of the war's most notorious and deadliest battles of World War II, the Battle of the Bulge.
Just after New Years Day of 1945, Sly's battalion was assigned to occupy and move south out from the village of Reharmont in Southeast Belgium in the center of the regiment's attack. Under intense 88 mm artillery, mortar and small arms fire, Sly's Company C incurred heavy casualties as it moved out from the woods north of Reharmont.
"They had fields of fire - it became obvious to us early on that nobody was going to cross that open ground in daylight without tank or artillery support, so we fell back into the woods and started screaming for artillery fire and tank support, and neither were forthcoming," Sgt. Elmo Bell of C Company recalled.
Finally, C Company was ordered to move forward to the edge of the woods for the assault on the town, which eventually succeeded, but with great loss of life reducing the company down to half of its normal strength.
"Your husband was wounded in Belgium by the explosion of an enemy shell while he was engaged in delivering a mesage from the commander of his organization. That was on January 4, 1945," later wrote Major General James Gavin in a letter to Kate Sly.
The first telegraphic notice came on January 25,: "Regret to inform you your husband Paul E. Sly was seriously wounded in action, 4 January 1945 in Belgium, J.A. Ulio."
The final and devastating notice soon followed that Pvt. Paul E. Sly died from his wounds on January 8, 1945.
Following Private Sly's death, letters poured in from military and political officials. "The significance of his heroic service to his country will be preserved and commemorated by a grateful nation. It is hoped that this thought may give you strength and courage in your sorrows," wrote Major General J.A. Julio, Adjutant General, United States Army, January 28, 1945
Secretary of War Henry L. Stemson added, "The loss of a loved one is beyond man's repairing, and the medal is of slight value; not so. However, the message it carries is we are all comrades in arms in this battle for our country and those who have gone are not, and never will be forgotten by those of us who remain."
Major General James M. Gavin, the youngest major general division commander in the Army in World War II and who jumped with his own men, said, "Private Sly was a loyal and well disciplined soldier who had developed a high sense of loyalty. His humor was a great morale builder and consequently he was liked by his comrades."
"Putting aside family ties, the admiration, respect and affection of comrades are a soldier's most priceless possessions. These possessions I believe your son had earned in full measure. Death of such a man leaves each member of the division a lasting sense of loss, from which there comes to you a deep sense of personal sympathy," continued General Gavin in his letter of February 23, 1945.
Chaplain Philip M. Hannan in comforting Sly's widow wrote, "From the account of those who were near him when he met his death, your son was hit by a shell fragment and died very shortly thereafter. His death occurred in Belgium. The greatest courage and devotion of men like your son has made possible the truly epic history and accomplishments of this regiment, you can be justly proud of him as a loyal soldier and Catholic.
"Although your son has been with this regiment for quite some time, he was well respected and had won the friendship and goodwill of all of his comrades. During the campaign in which he met his death and in previous engagements, Paul Sly was noted for his aggressiveness. His officers testified that he was a very good soldier and always ready to take the worst with a smile," Chaplain Hannan said.
The Chaplain assured Mrs. Sly that her husband did have the comfort and aid of his religion at the time of his death and all during the bitterest winter weather that the Catholic men continued to attend Mass and to receive general absolution, even in the deep snow drifts.
Atlanta Constitution owner, Clark Howell, wrote, "There are no words which serve to alleviate your sorrow, but I did want to send you my sincere sympathy." Standard letters from future governor of Georgia and then Adjutant General S. Marvin Griffin and Georgia Governor Ellis Arnall came to Mrs. Sly's mail box in March.
"Your son was buried in Belgium and I can assure you that this was accomplished in a most befitting manner by his comrades with an Army Chaplain officiating," wrote General Gavin in a most personal letter. For more than two and one half years his body laid in the United States Military Cemetery Henri Chapelle, Belgium, Grave No. 167, Row 9, Plot No. VV.
In November 1947, one by one, 6250 coffins, containing the remains of Private Sly and other servicemen who died in Europe, were unloaded from the hold of the USS Joseph Connolly in New York Harbor. New York Mayor William O'Dwyer, who presided over the ceremonies, wrote Kate Sly, "As mayor of New York and on behalf of the citizens of this city, I extend my heartfelt sympathy to the family of Pvt. Paul E. Sly, who so honorably gave his life that others might enjoy peace and freedom. I trust and pray his sacrifice will not have been in vain."
Included aboard the shipment of fallen heroes were the bodies of T Sgt. Emmett Asbell, S. Sgt. Palmer N. Braddy, 2nd Lt. Blakely Parrott, and T-4 Johnny Rowland of Dublin. Six thousand marchers escorted the bodies up Fifth Avenue and the Hero's Canyon. This time, there was no ticker tapes thrown out of windows nor were there any cheers yelled from the skyscrapers. Only the mourning sound of mothers' tears of anguish and the muffled respectful drumbeats could be heard as they reverberated through what is still called "The Canyon of Heroes."
It was late in the cool, cloudy afternoon of the third Thursday of November 1947, when the body of Private Paul Edward Sly was finally laid to rest in the cemetery of Pleasant Springs Baptist Church in southeastern Laurens County. Gill C. Dudley had accompanied Sly's body on the last final leg of his journey home. Memories of that mournful day are still vivid in Paul Sly Jr.'s mind. Members of the local unit of the VFW served as pallbearers in a ceremony presided over by V.A. Chaplain, W.J. Willingham.
Kate Sly lovingly kept the memories of her husband's service and his death. If you close your eyes and turn on your other senses you can still feel the love and smell her perfume in the brittle, yellowing pages of her chocolate brown scrapbook.
And now, on this 70th anniversary of Paul Sly's last true measure of devotion, it is only proper and fitting for our community to recognize his acts of heroism. On December 6, 1947, Kate J. Sly signed OQMG Form # 623 in applying for a military headstone for her husband, Serial No. 34795788 .
A small marker was placed on his grave, but that marker is now missing. Through the aid of Paul Sly, Jr. and the Laurens County Historical Society, there will be an appropriate marker which tells the true identity of this never to be forgotten hero, "Private Paul E. Sly, Co. C, 505th Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, United States Army, World War II."
In the grand lore of Laurens County, no legend has been more celebrated than the acts of a young Confederate Surgeon and his valiant effort to protect the resources of Chappell's Mill during General William T. Sherman's cataclysmic "March to the Sea" near the end of the Civil War. Despite reports to the contrary that his efforts were unsuccessful, Duggan and his lone aide did accomplish their objective, protecting the mill. In his private life, Dr. James Barnes Duggan was a guiding force behind the establishment of one of the county's oldest and most important institutions, the Laurens County Library.
James Barnes Duggan, a s son of Archelaus and Elizabeth Walker Duggan was born in Washington County on November 1, 1833. One of five brothers, Duggan graduated from the University Medical College in Knoxville, Tennessee. Duggan began his practice in Wilkinson County and supplemented his income through large farming interests. Duggan was married three times. His first wife Nancy Jackson bore him four sons; Isaac Jackson, William Lee, James Henry and Paul Franklin. His last two wives were a Miss Brown and Emma Bass, sister-in-law of Dr. Benjamin Franklin Stanley, a Confederate surgeon whose family operated Chappell's Mill, then called Stanley's Mill.
On March 4, 1862, during a massive organization of military companies of the Georgia Volunteer Infantry, James B. Duggan was elected First Lieutenant of Company A, "The Wilkinson Rifles," of the 49th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Regiment. His company first saw action during the Battles of the Seven Days on the Virginia Peninsula in late June and early July of 1862. Following the battles of Cedar Mountain and the Second Manassas Lt. Duggan replaced Captain Samuel T. Player, who was elevated to Major of the Regiment. A soldier in Duggan's regiment, was given credit for killing the highest ranking Union officer killed during the war, General Phillip Kearney, at the Battle of Chantilly. Capt. Duggan led the company while guarding prisoners at Harper's Ferry during the horrific Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam). Duggan led his company to victory at Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. His company was held in reserve in the climatic battle of Gettysburg. The Wilkinson Rifles participated in the bloody retreating battles of the Wilderness and Spotsylvania Courthouse before retreating to a defensive position around Richmond and Petersburg. On June 11, 1864, Capt. Duggan was elected as Major of the 49th Georgia replacing Major John A. Durham, who died from wounds that he suffered at Jerico Ford.
After the long hot summer of 1864, Grant's overpowering forces were poised in a strangle hold against the embattled defenders of the Confederate capital at Richmond and its neighbor to the south, the strategic city of Petersburg. During the late fall and winter, when the armies basically took off from the war, Dr. Duggan was granted a leave to return back to his home.
The date was November 25, 1864. The advance elements of the Union Calvary already reached Ball's Ferry on the Oconee River in Wilkinson County. Ball's Ferry is located about 1/4 mile north of the present Georgia Highway No. 57 bridge over the river. The cavalry unit was dispatched to the ferry to secure it for passage by the 15th and 17th Army Corps. These two corps, composed of nearly sixty thousand men, were the Right Wing of Gen. William T. Sherman's army.
As the Right Wing approached the ferry on the 25th, patrols were sent down major roads to reconnoiter the area for signs of Gen. Joseph Wheeler's Confederate cavalry. General Osterhaus ordered the First Division under Gen. Charles Woods to march toward the Lightwood Knot Bridges on Big Sandy Creek. The 29th Missouri (mounted) was dispatched to destroy the bridges and to guard all crossings along the road to Dublin. General Wheeler and nearly four thousand cavalry men had just crossed the Oconee at Blackshear's Ferry the day before.
Major Duggan was acutely aware that grist mills were prime targets of Gen. Sherman's men. The local mill, then known as Stanley's Mill and now known as Chappell's Mill, was also serving as a cotton warehouse with a few hundred bales in storage. He became aware of the fact that "Yaller Jim," a mulatto servant belonging to the family which owned the mill, had run off to join the Yankees. Upon hearing of the approach of the Union Cavalry, Dr. Duggan mounted his horse and dashed off toward the Toomsboro Road. He arrived at the Lightwood Knot Bridges over a swollen Big Sandy Creek. Legend has it that the bridges were named because the Indians, who once populated the area, bridged the creek by piling a long row of "fat lightered" stumps in the creek.
Dr. Duggan fell back toward a house where he found an elderly black woman washing clothes in a boiling pot. Dr. Duggan formulated a plan to deter the cavalry. He briefed the lady about his plan. She agreed to help if the good doctor would insure the safety of her home. The Major and the lady then set fire to the bridge and its trestles.
Just then four cavalrymen with "Yaller Jim" on a mule approached from the northeast. They dismounted and attempted to put out the fire. Major Duggan and the lady began to open fire on the perplexed cavalrymen, who managed to get off a few return shots. Through the smoke they saw Major Duggan waving his arms appearing to be ordering his men into action. The cavalry, fearing they had found that Gen. Wheeler's Cavalry had double backed and returned to Ball's Ferry, reported to their superiors that they had completed a successful mission by destroying the bridges. "Yaller Jim" lost his mule and ran into the woods - never to be seen or heard from again. Dr. Duggan dashed off to his home and found it safely intact. He returned back toward the bridges and put out the fires. He graciously rewarded the woman who had helped him save Stanley's Mill from destruction by Sherman's "Bummers."
Dr. Duggan returned to his regiment and surrendered with the Army of Northern Virginia on April 9, 1865 at Appomattox Courthouse. Duggan served in the Georgia Legislature from 1875 to 1876. Dr. Duggan later moved to Laurens County and built a home known as "Elmwood." A community bearing that name is centered around the intersection of Ga. Highway 338 and Claxton Dairy/Mt. Olive Road. He died on September 29, 1915 and is buried in the Stanley Family Cemetery, affectionately known as "The Ditch," which lies only a short distance from Chappell's Mill.
In 1903, Duggan's initial pledge of $100.00 led to the building of Laurens County's first public library. His portrait now hangs in the Heritage Center of the Laurens County Library as a reminder of his most enduring contribution to our community.
John Twiggs was born in the state of Maryland on June 5, 1750. Very little is known of his early life, other than he came to Burke County, Georgia with his family shortly thereafter. A child of a poor family, John took up the trade of being a carpenter. Twiggs caught the eye of Miss Ruth Emanuel, a firm lady of character and sister of the Hon. David Emanuel. Following their marriage John and Ruth moved to Richmond County, where they established a modest plantation.
As tensions began to mount between the American colonies and the King of England, more local difficulties began to arise. Twiggs joined the army as a lieutenant and as a captain, a position to which he was appointed on June 1, 1774, led a company of men of St. George's Parish in a successful operation against a band of Cherokee Indians who had been making raids along the settlements along the Georgia frontier. In 1779, Twiggs, in support of Col. William Few, defeated a contingent of British troops seeking to attack the jail in Burke County. In the months which followed the epic battle at nearby Kettle Creek, Twiggs kept British regulars at bay by skirmishing them at every opportunity and attacking their supply lines in the rear of their lines. John Twiggs found himself and thirty men under attack at Butler's plantation on the Ogeechee River in June, 1779. Outnumbered by more than two to one, Twiggs inspired his men to rout the British force causing a bit of consternation among the British officers in Savannah. Not one to rest on his laurels, Twiggs encountered and conquered a band of British marauders at Buckhead Creek. On September 12, 1779, Twiggs and his company of soldiers joined General Benjamin Lincoln in preparation for an all out siege upon the British held Savannah. In one valiant and eventually futile attempt after another, the Continental army and local militia failed to liberate Georgia's ancient capital and most important city. In the retreat under cover of a flag signifying mutual respect for his status as an officer, Twiggs and his family were fired upon by British riflemen.
Following the fall of Charleston, the southeast's most important port, in May, 1780, Twigg's force joined General Horatio Gates' army in an attack at Camden, South Carolina. The colonial army, composed primarily of untested local militia, were trounced by Lord Cornwallis' battle-hardened veterans. Twiggs was nearly impaled by a saber, and left for dead on the battlefield. With the fire of freedom still in his soul, Twiggs returned to the Georgia backwoods to thwart his old enemies as they continued to pillage and terrorize the western regions of the colony.
Twiggs led American victories at Fish Dam ford and at Blackstock's house, where he personally led the attack against the fierce charge of the calvary of the villainous Banastre Tarleton. Though not given adequate credit for his actions by contemporary historians, it was indeed Col. Twiggs, who at the end of the day, was in command of the victorious colonists. During what was truly America's first civil war, a plot by an infamous Tory by the name of Gunn was uncovered and circumvented. When it was insisted that the poltroon be hung by the neck, Twiggs, in his usual forbearance, vetoed the execution of his assassin.
For his gallantry in action, the Georgia legislature, in its meeting in Augusta on August 18, 1781, named John Twiggs a brigadier general in the Georgia militia. Though the Revolutionary War was technically about to come to close in the early fall, British loyalists and discontented Indians were rumored to be mustering along the western frontiers in preparation for an attack on Augusta. For the remainder of the conflict, Twiggs organized for the impending attack, which never materialized.
After the close of the war, Twiggs retired to the solitude and enjoyment of his home, which he dubbed "Good Hope." He served a term as Justice of the Peace of Burke County in 1782. But the contentment was fleeting. On May 31, 1783, Twiggs along Georgia's most illustrious statesmen Lyman Hall, Elijah Clarke, William Few, Edward Telfair and Samuel Elbert met with a council of Cherokee chiefs in Augusta. The result of the negotiations was the purchase of a large tract of land in northeast Georgia. Nearly six months later, Twiggs helped to negotiate a treaty with the Creek Indians. Under the agreement the State of Georgia acquired all of the lands between the Ogechee and the Oconee rivers under a treaty, which precipitated a new war, a conflict which would evolve into a fifteen-year series of skirmishes and raids along both sides of the Oconee.
Treaty negotiations continued at Galphinton in 1785 and at Shoulderbone Creek. On September 8, 1791, Twiggs was again promoted by the Georgia legislature, this time to the position of Major General. It was during that year when Twiggs made his only engagement into politics by being elected to represent Richmond County in the Georgia legislature.
One of his most difficult assignments came in 1794, when Major General Twiggs was ordered to assemble a force of six hundred men to eject Twiggs' old comrade, General Elijah Clarke, who had, in the eyes of President George Washington and Georgia authorities, usurped his authority by establishing his own country along the western banks of the Oconee River in what would become Wilkinson, Baldwin and Laurens counties. Before the attack was launched, Clarke conceded and violence was averted.
In 1800, the State of Georgia honored General Twiggs by appointing him to the initial Board of Trustees of Franklin College, which evolved into the University of Georgia. Throughout his final years, this five-foot ten-inch stout man, with his florid complexion and gray eyes, remained active in civic affairs.
John Twiggs rarely sought any glory for his actions, only the satisfaction that he was serving his fellow man and protecting them from harm. In compliance with his wishes, no extravagant memorial would be placed on his grave. He died on March 29, 1816 at the relatively old age of sixty five. His body was laid to rest in the Twiggs family cemetery ten miles south of Augusta, off Georgia Hwy 56, on Goshen Industrial Blvd.
John and Ruth Twiggs had six children. One of them, David Emanuel Twiggs, served in the War of 1812, the various Indian conflicts of the era, and because of his heroic actions during the Mexican wars, was breveted a major general in command of the Department of Texas. When the Civil War erupted, Gen. David Twiggs surrendered his command to the Confederate army. For the act of treason and his acceptance of an appointment in the army of his homeland, Twiggs was dismissed from the Federal army. Another son, Levi Twiggs, was a field officer of the Marine Corps from the War of 1812 until his death during an assault on Mexico City in 1847. Two U.S. naval ships were named in his honor. A great grandson, Lt. Gen. John Twiggs Myers, earned high recognition in Marine Corps history for his valiant actions as commander of the American Legation guard in China during the Boxer Rebellion. His wife's brother, David Emanuel, served under Twiggs during the American Revolution and in 1801 was elected Governor of Georgia. On November 14, 1809, the State of Georgia immortalized the name of Twiggs by naming its newest county, Twiggs County, in his honor.
He was never a baseball player, although his name was Tyrus Raymond Cobb, Jr. He loved the sport of baseball, but he never played it on a professional level or even in high school. He loved other sports, especially tennis and hunting. His was one of the most famous families in Georgia history, though he never reveled in their fame. He would talk to others about his famous father. However, he had his own successful, but all too short career. He was a healer, and he took pride in doing his job and doing it well.
Tyrus Raymond Cobb, Jr. was born on January 30, 1910 in the home of his maternal grandfather, Roswell Lombard. Lombard, a well-known Augusta, Georgia businessman, lived on Dean’s Bridge Road, which later became known as U.S. Highway No. 1, just this side of Augusta. Ty Cobb, Sr. married Charlie Lombard on August 8, 1908. Ty, their second child was a bid red-headed baby, tipping the scales at nine pounds. Newspaper writers knew that he was going to be a great baseball player, just like his daddy.
The elder Cobb had made it to the pinnacle of the American League in 1909. He was the second of only fourteen players in major league history to win the Triple Crown, leading the American League in batting average, home runs (9), and runs batted in. Cobb also led the league in runs, hits, on-base average, slugging average, and stolen bases. The 1909 season, just before Ty’s birth, was one of the greatest seasons a major league ball player ever had. Cobb nearly won the Triple Crown three years in a row, leading the league in two of three categories. Cobb, considered one of the best and meanest players (his own teammates disliked his tactics) who ever lived, remains at the top of the all-time statistical leaders. Cobb is first in runs scored, and lifetime batting average with a .366 average. He got on base 43.3 % of the time. He was second in triples and hits, although he batted nearly three thousand less times than the leader, Pete Rose. He is fourth in games played, doubles, total bases, and at bats. Cobb stands fifth in runs batted in. In an era when stolen bases were not the norm, Ty Cobb still remains fourth on the all time list. Cobb, known as the "Georgia Peach," led the American League in batting average 12 out 13 seasons. Famous people came to visit Cobb, including President William Howard Taft soon before the younger Ty’s birth.
Ty Cobb, Sr.
The Cobbs moved into a two story home at 2425 William Street in the well-to-do Summerville section of Augusta, just a short distance from the current location of Augusta State University. Ty’s childhood was not like that of a typical Augusta boy. Visitors to the Cobb home included such legendary Americans as Knute Rockne, Bobby Jones, John Phillip Sousa, Robert Woodruff, and baseball commissioner, Kennesaw "Mountain" Landis. The sounds of classical music filled his home, while a wide variety of pets and animals were kept outside in the back yard. Although the elder Ty’s feats on the baseball diamond provided the Cobb family with all of the amenities of life, their family life was not so amenable. Ty Cobb’s legendary ball field temper came with him when he came home during the off season.
Ty Cobb Sr. (center) takes a portrait with his five children, (left to right) Herschel, Jimmy, Shirley, Beverly and Ty Jr. Ty Jr. spent years as a doctor in Dublin, Ga., before being diagnosed with brain cancer. He died living with his mother and sister in California. @ Augusta Chronicle, Don Rhodes, author of Safe At Home, a biography of Ty Cobb.
Ty, Jr. attended Richmond Academy in Augusta, where he was a two-sport star. Ty chose football and tennis, not even trying out for the baseball team. He knew that he could never match his father’s feats as a baseball player. Ty Jr., the antithesis of his father, was considered shy and took a lot of jealous ribbing from his fellow students. Ty loved to play tennis, then considered a game of the erudite. He played in the South Atlantic Tennis Tournament against Bill Tilden, the greatest tennis player of his day. Tilden, the first American to win at Wimbledon, became Ty’s personal tennis coach.
Ty attended Princeton University for a time before failing too many courses. He continued to play tennis after transferring to Yale University, where he was captain of the team. Ty returned nearer to home to study medicine at the Medical College of Charleston. He did his intern work at the University of Georgia Medical School in his hometown, without the financial aid of his father. While on a fishing trip in Florida, he met his wife, Mary Frances Dunn, whom he married on June 13, 1942. Ty returned to Augusta to his practice, before moving to Dublin several years later. The Cobbs had three children, Ty, III, Charlie, and Peggy. In 1945, Dr. and Mrs. Cobb bought the Hardeman Blackshear home at 1108 Stonewall Street, where the senior Cobb reportedly visited him on at least one occasion.
Dr. Cobb played very little organized baseball. He did love baseball. "He was my doctor, my favorite doctor," Wash Larsen recalled. "I still remember going into his office in the Thompson hospital on Rowe Street. It was a thrill just to go in and listening to his stories about baseball, and he had some good ones," Larsen said. Larsen and his friends practiced baseball on the ball field at the old fairgrounds at the corner of Telfair and Troup Streets. "Nearly every day, Dr. Cobb would pull up to the ballfield in his sports car. He would get out and ask if he could play ball with us. We said sure, of course, Dr. Cobb," Larsen said. After all, he was Ty Cobb, not the ball player, but as close as the young boys would ever get to him. "He hit all of our baseballs over the fence into the kudzu-lined ravine across the road and then left," Larsen fondly remembered. Larsen and his friends went to the kudzu patch and found every ball they could, hoping that Dr. Cobb would come back the next day and hit them over the fence again, which he did. Dr. Cobb was one of the better golfers in Dublin. He loved hunting. One day he was out on the Oconee River hunting for game birds. When he hit his first wild goose, he found a band on the bird's leg. Cobb stated, "I nearly fell out of the boat." The bird came from a wildlife refuge and the home of his friend, the famous Jack Miner. The Ontario refuge, where Cobb had visited many times as a child and an adult, was home to thousands of birds under the protection of the Canadian government.
As a doctor, Ty Cobb became one of Dublin’s finest and most respected physicians. Cobb joined Doctors A.T. Coleman and Fred Coleman and the American Legion in calling for the construction of a county hospital in Dublin. Early in 1952, Dr. Cobb was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He underwent an operation and lived for a time with his sister Shirley Beckworth in New York. The family kept him in New York, knowing that the hot Dublin summers wouldn’t be good for him. Although he looked healthy, the cancer was destroying his brain. In a poignant meeting, Ty, Sr. offered to give Ty, Jr. a bird dog. Ty had enough memory left to realize that his father had never given him anything.
Tyrus Raymond Cobb, Jr. died on September 9, 1952. He was entombed in the family mausoleum in Palo Alto, California. His father died in 1961 and his mother in 1975. She was entombed by her sons, while Ty, Sr. chose to be laid to rest in his hometown of Royston. Dr. Cobb’s fellow Dublin Rotary Club members started a memorial scholarship fund in his memory dedicated to providing scholarships to medical students. Dr. Cobb’s son, Charlie probably summed up the essence of his father when he said, " I don’t care what time he came in from treating his patients or delivering babies – sometimes two or three in the morning – my father always would come into our bedrooms and give us a kiss. I probably remember that more about him than anything else."
Mattie Hester was a combination of Annie Oakley, Calamity Jane and a pony express rider. A headstrong woman in a male dominated world, Hester could hold her own with the strongest of brutes. This is a tale of one remarkable woman and her brief moments of fame. Martha "Mattie" Hester was born about the year 1868. Her parents, John and Mary Hester, lived in the southeastern part of Laurens County on the east side of the river in what is still known as Smith's District.
Mattie grew up in an era when mail delivery was intermittent and slow. Condor was established as a post office in 1878. Two years later, an office was established further south along the River Road at Tweed. Most of the mail coming into Laurens County first came into Dublin for distribution to other places throughout the county. It was about 1890 when Mattie was given the job of carrying the mail from Dublin to Condor where she began her route. From Condor, she traveled south three days a week along the Old River Road to Lothair in what was then Montgomery, but which now lies in Treutlen County.
Female mail carriers were rare. The forty-five-mile route was often isolated. Any miscreant looking to steal cash or a valuable document could easily rob a carrier along the road. But Mattie would not be deterred. She hitched a Texas broncho to her small road cart to allow her to outrun any thieves. Her horse, faster than a hemidemisemiquaver in a John Phillip Sousa march, never failed Mattie.
She always got the mail to its destination on time or well ahead of its scheduled arrival. If she was accosted, Mattie was as fearless as anyone. To insure her safety, she carried a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver in her side pocket. Mattie was considered a crack shot, and no one who knew her would ever contemplate trying to take any mail or in anyway impede her delivery schedule. Lacking no doubt about her ability to defend herself against any highwayman or tramp in her path, Mattie Hester held little respect for members of her own sex who feared to venture out into public without an escort.
A prime example of Mattie's determination occurred during a winter rainy spell. After nearly a week of constant rainfall in the summer of 1890, the creeks and streams along the mail route had swollen beyond their banks. Messer's (Mercer's) Creek, which serves as the boundary line between Laurens and Montgomery (now Treutlen) counties had become a raging torrent. The long bridge, usually dependable for most crossings, was in danger of being swept away at any moment. Its abutments were already gone. Upon her arrival at the bridge, Mattie surveyed the perilous situation. Recognizing the danger ahead, but acknowledging the necessity of the mail being delivered, Mattie decided to plunge ahead. "If there is any possible chance to cross, I intended to cross, even if I have to swim," said Mattie. Mattie whipped the hind of her trusty bronco and plunged into the turbulence. Her horse found itself tangled in a patch of vines in five feet of water. Instinctively Mattie cut the helpless horse from its harness. Battling shoulder deep raging currents Mattie persevered, all the time dragging the cart until she could reach the bridge which by then was cover with water itself, but still standing. She managed to make it across and did her pony. After a moment or two of rest, Mattie hitched the drenched horse to the wagon and resumed her journey, albeit she excusably took nearly an hour to travel the remaining seven miles to Lothair.
Mattie's duties at home and the pittance of a salary she received from the Postal Service led to her resignation as a postal carrier. One might think that this fiercely independent, pistol packing and hard charging woman might have a manly image. To the contrary, Mattie was described a reporter for the Atlanta Constitution as "a beauty of a real southern type, wavy black hair, deep blue eyes, beautiful figure and complexion with the whitest teeth imaginable." "Her jaunty air and pretty face never failed to attract the attention of strangers, as she rattled swiftly by in her cart, never looking to the right or to the left, but attending strictly to business," the reporter continued. I
n addition to her admirable qualities of dedication to her work and striking beauty, Mattie was considered to be an astute businesswoman. Following her father's death at a relatively young age in 1890, Mattie took over the management of the family farm. Mattie took part in all phases of the farming operation, from cultivation to planting and from harvesting to marketing to the highest bidder, the latter of which were among her greatest talents. Always looking for a way to improve the income from her home place, Mattie ventured into the woods behind her house and saw money in the trees. She cut some of the trees and personally assembled them into a raft. In the process she had to wade throughout the swamp, sometimes with water up to her waist. Mattie's brother took over at that point and piloted the timber raft down the treacherous waters of the Oconee and Altamaha rivers to the port city of Darien, where the logs were sold at a handsome profit. The venture became so lucrative that Mattie saved a few of the trees and invested some of the income into constructing a split rail fence around the Hester farm. By the best count available, Mattie cut about five thousand rails during her first five years of managing the farm. Mattie spent her spare time teaching young people how to shoot. She also a talent for penmanship and drawing.
Mattie's marksmanship came in handy when someone needed defending. On an early December evening in 18906, a Mr. Palmer was giving a dance party in his home in the Martha community near Tweed. Mattie's entrepreneurial abilities included the sale of spiritous liquors. It was said she sold her stock freely among the male party goers, many of whom found themselves under the influence of Mattie's liquor. As more and more whiskey was consumed, tempers began to flare. Mattie found herself engaged in a heated argument with Henry McLendon. Maggie drew her pistol and shot her antagonist. Mattie's brother rose to her defense, but was brutally beaten about the face with a pair of brass knuckles. Alfred Shell, a steam mill owner, was also shot and seriously wounded.
Mattie seemed to disappear after that. Was she forced to leave the community? If so, where did she go? Did this beautiful and fiercely independent woman ever marry? Maybe one day we will know.
John West could tell a tale or two. He claimed he was the Confederacy's best rifleman having killed generals and scores of officers and privates as well. Is the story of John West, alias "Kildee," an accurate story of a sharpshooting soldier or just an inflated fable of early yellow journalism to sell books, or merely the boastful reminiscences of an aging veteran of a horrible war?
West was born in Twiggs County, Georgia. When the Civil War broke out, West enlisted in the Confederate Army in Louisiana, but decided that it was best for him to transfer back his native land to fight the Yankees. On July 9, 1861, John West enlisted as a private in the Twiggs Volunteers, officially known as Company C of the 4th Georgia Volunteer Infantry. Also known as "the "Jorees" because of the resemblance of their uniform coats with their three black stripes on the tails to a beautiful bird of the era, the Twiggs Volunteers were assigned to the brigade commanded by A.R. Wright of Georgia. Their first taste of battle and blood began in the last week of June 1862. In a series of engagements along the peninsula of Virginia east of Richmond, the Army of Northern Virginia and the Army of the Potomac slugged it out in a prelude of the deadly battles to come. The battles, known as the Seven Days' Battles, culminated on July 1, 1862 at a small prominence known as Malvern Hill. In the fighting, West suffered his first substantial wound.
Many of the rifles which were used by Confederate soldiers had a limited range. It was in 1862 when General Robert E. Lee received a shipment of thirteen English Whitworth rifles, guaranteed to kill a man at a range of 1,800 yards and arguably the finest rifle that a soldier could possess. West was selected among an elite group of marksmen to train for three months on how to handle the coveted weapon. As the training came to end, West was ahead of the other dozen sharpshooters. In the final test a white board with a two-foot square diamond in the center was placed 1500 yards away. Shooting through a stiff wind, West scored three bulls' eyes, with the remaining shots striking the board. As the winner of the contest, West was given the choice of a horse, a rifle, a saber, a revolver and all of the finest accouterments.
Sharpshooters were an integral part of military operations. The men were often placed at strategic points to kill officers, silencing batteries, and especially picking off the sharpshooters on the other side. Artillerymen were easy targets, but when riled, would turn their canon on a sharpshooter and blow him a way. On one occasion, West and a associate killed the entire compliment of soldiers in a battery, allowing the infantry to take command of that part of the field.
West told the editors of Camp Fire Sketches and Battlefield Echoes, "I soon became indifferent to anger and inured to hardships and privations. I have killed men from ten paces to a mile. I have no idea of how many I killed, but I made a good many bite the dust." The sharpshooter's greatest fear was another sharpshooter. In the days before the advent of camouflage material, a sharpshooter would climb a tree and pin leaves to disguise his uniform. When two sharpshooters encountered an enemy sharpshooter, one would raise a hat on a stick or his ramrod to draw his antagonist's fire. Once the opponent revealed his position, the second marksman would point his sight directly at his head and fire.
"I've shot 'em out of trees and seem 'em fall like coons," West boasted. Occasionally West would be called upon to pick off targets while lying in a bed of tall grasses. Sparks from the discharge of his rifle frequently ignited the dry grasses and alerted the enemy of his whereabouts. West would then roll his body rapidly while Union riflemen poured round after round into the smoke. West claimed that he killed two Union Generals, General James Shields and Nathaniel P. Banks. The crack shot was sure he got General Shields as he was the only sharpshooter on the line that day and only a round from his rifle could have killed a man at that range. Shields was in command of a Union division near Winchester, Virginia in the late summer of 1864. He was wounded, but he was not killed. He went on to represent Missouri in the U.S. Senate and died fifteen years after his wound at Winchester. No record exists of any wounds suffered by General Nathaniel P. Banks, though his division was thwarted by Stonewall Jackson's Army at the Battle of Cedar Mountain in August 1862. Banks served ten terms in the U.S. Congress and lived for nearly three decades after the close of the war.
At Cold Harbor, Virginia, West found himself and a Colonel Brown on the wrong side of the Union lines. West and Brown, wearing blue coats, attempted to fool a Union officer into believing that they were officers and needed to pass in front of the Federal wagon train. When the ruse was revealed, Col. Brown fired his revolver striking the Yankee officer. A hail of bullets was heaped upon Brown and West, who were attempting to flee for their lives. Brown's horse went down and both men tumbled to the ground. Thought to be spies, Brown and West were put under a close guard during the night by four Union soldiers. Deciding that trying to dodge four bullets in the dark was preferable to twenty bullets of a firing squad at dawn, the captives crawled on their bellies evading the inattentive sentinels and made their way to freedom.
During the fighting at the second battle of Cold Harbor, West was positioned at the front of the Confederate lines. For hours, West futilely tried to pick off a Union sharpshooter who had been killing his comrades all day. " I was behind a large rock. Several times he shot at me. He was out there about 1,400 yards in the woods, but I couldn't see his smoke for the treetops," West lamented. After two hours of silence, General George Doles, of Milledgeville, Georgia, appeared on the scene and asked West to silence that devilish tormentor of his men. "He asked me to do my best, and I told him that had been trying to do that all day," John remembered. It was then that Doles stepped in front of West and exposed himself. West warned the general to look out and take cover. At that instant a mini ball struck the general in the right side and passed through his body killing him instantly. West carried General Doles from the field and escorted his body home for burial in Milledgeville.
Though he may have never killed a general, John West believed it was his gun which fired the fatal shot which killed Major General John Sedgwick at the Battle of Spotsylvania on May 9, 1864. While some doubted the story, West lent his gun to Charley Grace while he was in the hospital and it was true that Grace fired the fatal shot.
John West surrendered with his company at Appomattox C.H. on April 9, 1865. He tried to conceal his prized rifle in a blanket, but it was discovered and confiscated. He spent the rest of his life trying to get his gun back. After the war, West returned to Twiggs County to farm. West enjoyed attending Confederate reunions and telling stories of his days as one of the best sharpshooters in the army. He died in 1912 and is buried in the family cemetery on Fountain Road, 2.3 miles west of the intersection of Highway 18 and Fountain Road.
Bill Robinson died on the last Sunday in July. Unless you are an "old school" baseball fan, you probably wouldn't even know his name. Robinson, the biggest star of the 1962 Dublin Braves team, was revered by those who knew him as a decent man, one who was a well-respected hitting instructor and coach. His pupils won two world championships. A sixteen-year veteran of the big leagues, Robinson won a World Series ring of his own with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979. This is the story of a man who was once billed as "the black Mickey Mantle" and survived the intense pressures of major league baseball for a successful 47-year career in "America's pastime."
William Henry "Bill" Robinson was born on June 26, 1943 in McKeesport, Pennsylvania. After high school, Bill was signed by the Milwaukee Braves and assigned to their farm team in Wellsville. At the age of 18, Bill Robinson was ranked by scouts as one of the best rookie outfielders ever, better than Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson. At first, his future in baseball seemed dim. After a poor season in Eau Claire, Robinson was assigned to the Dublin Braves in the Georgia Florida League. In his first game with Dublin, Robinson impressed the fans with a single and a double to drive in four runs. Under the tutelage of the wily veteran manager Bill Steinecke, Robinson reversed his downward spiral and posted a highly respectable .304 average with 21 extra-base hits in 207 at bats.
Following a system wide reorganization of the minor league farm systems, Robinson was assigned to the Waycross Braves in 1963. Bill's star continued to rise with a .316 average at Waycross and a .348 average with Yakima in 1964. Facing stiffer competition, Robinson's stats tailed off with the Atlanta Crackers the following year. An International League all-star with the Richmond Braves in '66, Robinson excited the big league team in Atlanta and scouts around the country with an outstanding .312 average, 20 home runs and 79 runs batted in. After five years of bus riding and hectic living, Robinson finally made it to the majors during a late season call up in the Braves' first season in Atlanta on September 20, 1966. In 11 at bats, he garnered three hits.
With Roger Maris being traded to the Cardinals and the future of an aging and aching Mickey Mantle in doubt, New York Yankee manager Ralph Houk salivated at the thought of Robinson in his outfield. "He has the best arm I have ever seen," Houk told a reporter for the Washington Post. On November 29, 1966, the Yankees traded the veteran third sacker Clete Boyer to the Braves for the young Robinson, who carried with him a .298 average, a rocket arm and the possessed the power to become what the Yankees hoped would be "the black Mickey Mantle."
An early indicator of Robinson's throwing ability was his skill in throwing rocks at his antagonists. Somewhat of a runt in comparison to the bullies of Elizabeth, Pennsylvania, Robinson compensated for his scrawniness. "When I was about 10 years old, there was one boy who used to beat me up all the time. One day I waited at the top of a hill and split his head open with a rock from 20 yards. I guess I could hit a guy with a rock at a hundred yards. I was pretty accurate," Robinson chuckled.
After developing a soreness in his right throwing arm in the Venezuelan winter ball league, Robinson underwent elbow surgery in the winter of 1967. Robinson struggled in his rookie season. With manager Houk's unfaltering patience and encouragement, Bill Robinson once again reversed his slump and surged to bat .260 in the second half of the 1967 campaign.
Robinson's sophomore season with the Yankees mirrored his rookie season. Mired in a horrific slump at the all-star break, Bill silenced his doubters with a .282 second half, and solidified a starting position for the 1969 season. Robinson returned his blessings to the community by actively participating in youth programs in New York. After a dismal season in '69, Robinson feared his baseball career was over. At the age of twenty-six, Bill appeared to be headed for the verge of obscurity. Yankee fans, instinctively and unmercifully, booed Bill. The pressure to replace "the Mick" was unbearable. After three average seasons in the minors with Syracuse, Tuscon and Eugene, Robinson finally returned to the major leagues toward the end of the 1972 season with the Philadelphia Phillies, who hoped to capitalize on his resurgent power hitting.
Robinson, who could play all three outfield positions, led the Pacific Coast League in rbi at the time of his call up to the Phillies. With the pressure of being expected to perform with the legendary Yankees gone, Robinson returned to his youthful form. He hated to go to the ball park (in New York) where he tried too hard to perform up to the impossible standards set for him by management and fans alike. Frustration led to more frustration. The White Sox had assigned Bill to their Tuscon team in 1971. Robinson felt he was lied to by the Chicago team and actually quit baseball, only to be traded to the Phillies, a move which rejuvenated his career.
Robinson shed his demons and began to enjoy baseball again. Wally Moses, a native of Montgomery County, Georgia and the Phil's hitting instructor, resurrected Robinson's natural hitting style. Bill entered the 1973 season, hoping just to remain on the team for 52 days to qualify for a pension. Little did "Robby" know he would still be around a decade later. 1973 was Bill's best season so far. He batted .288 and hit 25 home runs. Seventh in at bats per home run, ninth in slugging percentage and tenth in extra base hits in the National League, Robinson appeared headed for stardom at the age of thirty. But Robinson's roller coaster career took another dip in 1974 and he was traded to the cross state rival Pittsburgh Pirates in the off season.
A valuable substitute outfielder, Robinson played well for the Pirates and played for the Bucs in the 1975 post season playoffs against the Cincinnati Reds. Though Bill accepted his job as utility outfielder, he wanted to play full time. When Pirate outfielder Dave Parker went down in May 1975, Robinson got his shot at starting in Pirate outfield. Robby was asked to play third base when Richie Hebner went on the disabled list. Bill enjoyed playing on the hot corner as it kept him more involved in the game. Bill Robinson responded to the challenge both eagerly and favorably, since the Pirates had a trio of outfield stars. Though he ended the 1976 season with a .303 batting average, Robinson went into August batting at an amazing clip of.340. With 64 rbi and 21 home runs, Bill Robinson was chosen as the team's most valuable player and finished 21st in the balloting for the National League's Most Valuable Player. Robinson had reached the prime of his career. Suddenly, at the age of 33, he was on the verge of becoming a superstar.
Bill Robinson entered the 1977 season, his 10th full year in the majors, with high expectations. A series of ham string injuries, a bad shoulder and an aching leg couldn't hinder his determination to show his 1976 season was no fluke. Though he wasn't considered for the 1976 all star team with a .335 average, Robinson thought he might have a chance in 1977. Robinson was devastated when his name didn't appear on the 1977 ballot. Thoroughly disgusted at what he termed as a farce of a voting system, Robinson vowed not to play, even if was selected as a substitute.
Robinson continued to excel. He got his first ever on screen interview with the venerable Howard Cosell on Monday Night Baseball. Bill told the bumptious Cosell that he had alleviated the pressure and went up to the plate without any worries. When called upon after first baseman Willie Stargell was scratched from the lineup due to an injury, Robinson moved across the diamond for the good of the team.
1977 was Robinson's career year. Eleventh in the balloting for the NL Most Valuable Player, Robinson finished eighth in the league in slugging percentage and runs batted in, and sixth in doubles posted career highs in home runs (26), runs batted in (104) and batting average (.304.)
Bill Robinson returned to the outfield in 1978, replacing Al Oliver, who had been traded to Texas. With a contract extension in hand removing him from the bottom of the pay list for regular players, Robinson looked to improve on his totals of the '77 season. After getting off to a hot start, a nagging thumb injury altered his outstanding swing. After six seasons of virtual serenity, the pressure began to nag at Bill once again. His hitting had gone from consistently torrid to woefully inconsistent.
The Pirates began acquiring new players to step in, just in case Robinson faltered in 1979. His average dropped to .246, the third worst of his career. Just when it looked like he would once again fail, Robinson turned it up and moved to the top of the team's offensive statistical categories. Robinson's return to brilliance helped the Pirates to win the National League's Eastern Division pennant.
The Pirates adopted the song We Are Family as their theme song for 1979. The Pirates easily swept the powerful Reds to face the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series. In a rematch of the '71 series, the Pirates won in the seventh and deciding game. Hitless in three at bats in the league championship series, Robinson got five hits in the series to win his first World Series championship ring.
Still considered a good utility player, the Pirates held onto the aging Robinson after his home run total fell to 12 in the 1980 season, though he did hit .287. Nagging injuries to Willie Stargell and Dave Parker kept Robinson in the lineup despite the fact that he was 37 and was beginning to slow down. Robinson didn't disappoint Pirate manger Chuck Tanner and played another solid season for the Pirates.
The end of Robinson's career began in the spring of 1981 when he underwent surgery for the repair of his right Achilles tendon. Bill never regained his quick bat and posted the lowest average of his National League career. After 31 games with the Pirates, Robinson returned to Philadelphia for the remainder of the 1982 season. At the end of the season, Robinson, approaching his 40th birthday, filed for free agency. He was resigned by the Phillies and played only in ten games before being released on June 9, 1983, seventeen days after his final game on May 23, 1983. The Phillies respected Robinson's knowledge of him and retained him as a minor league hitting instructor.
In his sixteen seasons in the major leagues, Robinson had 1127 hits, 166 home runs and drove in 641 runs. He hit 104 round trippers in the minors along with 514 runs batted in. His career batting average of .258 in 1472 games was not a true reflection of his outstanding career in the 1970s when he was a better than average hitter.
At the end of the '83 season, Robinson was wooed by the Mets as their new batting coach. With the likes of Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez and George Foster in the Met's lineup, Robinson wasn't about to begin making changes in his slugger's swings. "I don't have any complicated ideas about hitting,"Robinson said. "Mine is a very simple approach, mostly mental," said Robinson, who was manager Dave Johnson's first choice because of his ability as a teacher of hitting.
Facing the brink of elimination in the 6th game of the 1986 World Series, the Mets rallied and took advantage of one of the greatest blunders in World Series history to send the series into the seventh and deciding game, which the Mets won. Robinson had once again returned to the top of his form, this time as the man who taught the world champions the art of hitting. Robinson remained with the Mets until the end of the 1989 season when the team made wholesale changes in their coaching staff.
In 1990, the producers of Baseball Tonight hired Robinson for his insightful commentary on major league baseball. After a two-year stint with ESPN, Robinson returned full time to baseball. Robinson worked for the Phillies minor league organization as a manager and coach from 1994 though 1999. Bill returned to the Yankees organization as a minor league hitting instructor for its Columbus team from 1999 to 2001. He accepted the offer of the Florida Marlins to serve as their hitting coach for the 2002 season.
Once again in 2003, Robinson's pupils, the surprising Florida Marlins, shocked the baseball world by capturing the World Series title, earning Robinson his third and final World Series ring.After four seasons with the Marlins, Robinson was hired as the hitting instructor for the Dodger's minor league system.
On July 29, 2007, Robinson failed to show up for an appointment in Las Vegas to discuss hitting. He had complained about his heart after throwing batting practice and went back to his hotel room to rest. A friend found him dead. Apparently his heart simply gave out. His Bible was lying open in front of him.
Jeff Wilpon, the CEO of the Mets described Robinson as "a devoted family man, a consummate professional and one of the classiest men in our sport." "Bill was a wonderful family man and a great player, manager and coach. He was a friend to everyone he met," said Dodger general manager Ned Colletti.