Dear Friends of Lexington Odd Fellows Cemetery:
Father’s Day is the creation of a woman in Spokane, Washington, Sonora Smart Dodd, whose widowed father, a Confederate veteran, raised his six children in Spokane by himself after his wife’s death. Sonora Dodd believed that fathers, both living and dead, should, like mothers, be celebrated each year on a day of remembrance. She chose the third Sunday in June as that day, and the first Father’s Day was celebrated in 1909, the year after the creation of Mother’s Day.
As I walk the rises and swales of Odd Fellows Cemetery, I see the old names so familiar to me. I come first to the Temple Beth El section, to the grave of Herman Flowers, father of Beth Flowers Lebow and Ann Flowers Gold. Beth is my age, and Anne is my sister Amanda’s age, so through them I saw a lot of Herman when I was growing up. Herman owned and operated the iconic Flowers Department Store on the east side of the Lexington square, and each year at the beginning of school, I went to “Flowers” and bought my Levi blue jeans and McGregor shirts and the other “school” clothes for the coming year. Herman was a sweet, gentle, kind man, with a wonderful sense of humor that never failed to delight me. Later, when I was working on the Eddie Noel book, I stayed a number of times with Herman when I was in Lexington, and I realized then how much I had learned from him in the years long past. In a nutshell, what I learned was how joyful life can be if you just seek the joy in it and take advantage of every day as a joy-filled gift to be cherished and lived to the fullest. Herman did that, and in so doing, set an example for me that has withstood the emotional rocks and shoals of life. He was, and remains, one of the true gems of my life.
I come next to the two Povall plots and see the graves of my ancestors. I stand over the grave of my father, Allie Stuart Povall, and I see him in my mind’s eye out in our yard, walking and inspecting the grass, the shrubs, the grove of fruit trees out back, the old pecan trees, everything. He is tall, slender and tan, with silver hair and a smooth, powerful, athletic gait. From him I learned what a man is supposed to be, how to stand up – I wasn’t always able to do it – for what is true and right and how to step up and take responsibility when no one else will. Allie Povall was a great high school athlete, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army during World War II, and he served his community as Mayor for sixteen years. He also coached Lexington High School football in the fall of 1945, resuscitating a program that had been dormant during the war. So many of his players from that one magical season – they went 8-2 – have told me what an important father-figure he was for them. For me, he was my beacon, my guiding light.
His father is here also: Roland Austin Povall, who was born in 1869 and grew up in the shadow of the Civil War and in the teeth of Reconstruction. I remember “Papa” well. My sister Patty and I used to visit him, and I think now how close he was to those cataclysmic and nation-defining events. Both Papa’s father John and his father-in-law, Cass Oltenburg, who is buried at Odd Fellows, were Civil War veterans, and there is so much I would love to ask Papa now, if only I could. Papa was soft and warm and loving, and my sister Patty and I often sat in his lap and let that love flow over us. Men have a hard time talking about love, but at my age – I am 78 now – I realize what an important part – perhaps the most important part -- of our lives love is. And paternal love, the love of our fathers, uncles and grandfathers, is a big part of what was so important to us as we moved in fits and starts along the continuum of life.
There are a myriad of other men who, like Herman and my father, influenced my life. Coach Woodson Earle is here in Odd Fellows. Although at times I hated him, and at times he nearly killed me trying futilely to coach me in football, from him I learned how hard you have to work to be successful at anything you do in life. I also saw, as I did with my own father, what true leadership -- inspirational leadership -- is like. I saw in him the ability to prepare a group of young men for a football game and then inspire them to go beyond what they thought was possible to execute the plan he had given them. I applied those lessons in my own life as executive officer of a combatant Navy vessel in Vietnam. Coach Earle was one of the main architects of whatever success I had in that role.
Many of the men buried at Odd Fellows were, I am sure, rays of light in the lives of the men who are reading this letter. From them we learned both how to be fathers to our own children and how to be men, and for these lessons, and the many others that we learned from them, we are grateful. So now we celebrate their lives on this Father’s Day of 2020, and just as importantly, our children and grandchildren celebrate our lives and our love for them on this day. Let us hope that we have done as good a job with and for our children as those who went before us did with and for us, and let us hope that we will always be luminous rays of light in the lives of our children and grandchildren.
May you as fathers and grandfathers, and as sons and grandsons, feel, as Herman Flowers taught me so long ago, a sunlit burst of joy on this happy day of remembrance.
Allie Stuart Povall, Jr., Guest Editor
FATHER’S DAY MEMORIES
Chris Hearn Hammett: When I was small, I remember my father, John Hearn, warming my socks and shoes by the fireplace in the mornings before school and then with his huge gentle hands, putting them on my tiny feet. He would straighten and smooth them just right. Then, I remember as an adult when my father invited God into his heart. You could see the transformation in his face, his smile and his life.
Ed Wilburn Hooker: My father (Wilburn Hooker) was a strong man who stuck with his principles. We have all seen changes in our community. I personally have blended with the times. Right now, I am proud to say that my daughter Kathleen, as well as other concerned citizens, are exploring the need for a food bank in Lexington. (Editor’s note: Although Wilburn Hooker was of an age and family situation that he was not required to serve in World War II, he volunteered anyway and served as a Naval officer in the Pacific aboard submarines. When I spoke to the Rotary Club in 1965 of my own Navy experiences in the Western Pacific, Wilburn told me that his submarine worked its way up from the South Pacific to the Philippines. The casualty rate in the submarine service was second only to that sustained by aircrews of the U. S. Army Air Force in its bombing missions over Nazi Germany.)
Bob Berman: My father, Joseph E. Berman was born in Camilla, Georgia and graduated from the University of Georgia Law School. He became a law partner of former Atlanta Mayor Sims and was elected to the Atlanta City Council. As Chairman of the Aviation Committee, he literally brought aviation to that City in the early 1930’s. The Editor of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution wrote the following: “Joe Berman, you did more than any one man or group of men to bring aviation to Atlanta”. His name was on a gate at the airport’s entrance.
After moving to Lexington, the home of his wife and my mother, Fay Lewis Berman, he was president of the Rotary Club, the Country Club, and was Lay Rabbi at Temple Beth El.
Near the beginning of World War II, he volunteered and served in the U. S. Judge Advocate’s office in Atlanta, where my mother Fay, sister Joanne and I lived with him until he volunteered for overseas duty, serving on Okinawa and as a military judge of Japanese war criminals in Korea. Afterwards, he returned home as a full Colonel, one of the highest-ranking officers in Mississippi and served as President of the United States Reserve Officer’s Association. He toured the Mideast and made many talks to churches, synagogues and civic clubs about this travel experiences. He was an author, loving father and a true man of God.
Parham Williams, Jr.: “It does not matter how slowly you go, so long as you do not stop.” Confucius (551- 479 BC)
My father taught me many things – how to turn a wooden candlestick on a lathe, the art of milking a cow, how to drive an automobile (when I reached my twelfth birthday), how to deliver a speech, how to bag quail with a 20 gauge, how to tie a four-in-hand knot in my Sunday tie, how to whitewash a chicken house – the list of “practical” lessons is virtually endless.
The list of “character” lessons is perhaps shorter – but infinitely more important. By precept and example, my father taught me those principles that should guide one’s life: honesty in thought, word and deed; respect for the dignity of every person; an abiding faith in our Creator; a hunger for knowledge; compassion for the less fortunate among us; and perseverance in the journey to attain worthwhile goals.
Many other lessons were taught, but “perseverance” was indelibly impressed in my memory by the story of my father’s college career. One of eight children who grew up on a hardscrabble Mississippi farm, he became the first in all known generations of his family to obtain a college degree. The story of “how” he obtained that degree teaches the lesson of perseverance. When he graduated from high school, the local board promptly hired him to be the “second teacher” in the same two-teacher school. By living at home and saving his $30 monthly salary, he accumulated sufficient funds to pay tuition, room and board for his freshman year of college. He then taught a year in a rural Attala County school, earning enough to return and complete his sophomore year of college.
And so, it went: one year of college, followed by a year of teaching at different rural schools, then back to college. When President Wilson declared war on Germany in April 1917, my father promptly volunteered, even though he had only one semester remaining to graduate. Two years later, he returned from the Army to complete that final semester and to graduate in June 1919 – a decade after he enrolled as a freshman.
So, Confucius was right. It does not matter how slowly you travel, so long as you never stop.