Category Archives: People

Dispatches from Off the Deaton Path: Veterans Day

Stan explores the origins of Veterans Day 100 years in the aftermath of World War I, and how Savannah has honored and memorialized those who served and died for their country.

The Capacity to Wear Glory With Grace

Like most people who attended the University of Georgia before 1988, I only knew Vince Dooley as one of 80,000+ fans sitting in Sanford Stadium. On football Saturdays, he was the man running up and down on our sidelines, chopping at the air with his fists, frequently grimacing with clenched teeth, or kicking phantom field goals as he urged his team on. Before every game at his weekly press conference, he would downplay the Dogs and their chances, while he always talked about their next opponent as if they were the ’72 Dolphins. You would, occasionally, see him walking across campus, with the most instantly recognizable profile in Georgia. Long before my tenure there and for a few years after, he was always coaching on the Bulldogs sideline, for 25 seasons, until he stepped away voluntarily in 1988, the winningest coach in UGA history.

While I was watching all those games, it never occurred to me that one day Coach Dooley and I would actually become friends. As is well known, Coach was passionate about history, and through the invitation of GHS President and CEO Todd Groce nearly 20 years ago, Coach got involved with the Georgia Historical Society. We invited him to speak at the Georgia Day luncheon, and he killed it, as he always did. Todd asked him to serve on our Board, he accepted, and from that point on he became among the best friends and loyal supporters this institution has ever had. He served on our Board for many years, served as Board chairman from 2016-2018, and was inducted as a Georgia Trustee by GHS and the Office of the Governor in 2011.

This also meant that he was a regular visitor to our Savannah headquarters, and I never missed an opportunity to bust his chops when he was in the building. I well remember the first time I met him.

He had come to the GHS Research Center while preparing for a speech he was giving to the Hibernian Society here in Savannah just before St. Patrick’s Day. Todd called down to my office and asked if I’d like to meet Vince Dooley. I was upstairs before he hung up. Coach greeted me warmly after Todd told him I was a double-Dog and asked what years I was there; 1982 to ’88, I replied. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “those were good years.” Indeed they were. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Every time I saw him, he wanted to talk history, and I wanted to talk football. His recall was incredible. No matter what game I brought up from his long tenure, he could talk about it in detail—the plays he called on this down or that, what it was like coaching against the Bear or Bobby Dodd. The 1965 trip to the Big House at the University of Michigan. The Appleby to Washington stunner in the 1975 GA-Florida game. Buck Belue to Lindsay Scott, 1980. Kevin Butler’s 60-yarder against Clemson, 1984. The first night game at Sanford Stadium, September 6, 1982. And by the way, he often corrected me as to dates if I got my years mixed up. Beyond remembering his own games, Coach was a student of the history of college football nationally and could talk widely of games, players, and coaches from the early decades of the sport.

I’ll never forget the first time his name popped up on my cell phone. I was doing laundry one evening in my garage when my phone rang, and I looked down to see “Vince Dooley.” Needless to say, those calls never went to voice mail: “Hey Coach!” “Stan, Vince Dooley,” he’d say in that inimitable gravelly voice, as though I wouldn’t know who he was otherwise. I cannot for the life of me remember what he wanted in that first call, but I’ll never forget that moment.

Over the years my colleague Laura and I always marveled that we were so fortunate to spend so much time with this living legend. He had us over to his house in Athens, showed us through his beloved gardens, introduced us to family, had dinner with us, signed footballs and books for us, invited us to speak to his book club. When my father died last year, he took the time to send a very moving personal note.

He was a living legend, yes, but through all the time I got to spend with him, the thing I remember most about him was his humility and his kindness to everyone that met him. He was, until January of this year, the only man who ever won a national football championship at Georgia, and until the day he died he was the physical embodiment of the state’s flagship university. He was revered, beloved, and worshipped for those things. Fame doesn’t usually rest easy on anyone’s shoulders, and that could have been an incredibly heavy burden to bear. But Coach Dooley, a United State Marine before he was a legend, embraced all of it and seemed to carry it lightly through all those years.

Naturally, he couldn’t go anywhere in Georgia without being recognized by everybody. It would have driven me crazy, but he loved it. He never got tired of it. He couldn’t eat a meal without it being interrupted several times, but he always patiently signed autographs, shook hands warmly with strangers, smiled for selfies.

I well remember being with him once in Athens, and we stopped at a Subway to eat lunch. The poor guy behind the counter got so nervous taking Coach’s order that he couldn’t function properly. Coach responded instantly, reaching over to shake his hand, introducing himself and making small talk, putting the kid at ease. He left him grinning from ear to ear. This particular living legend was always approachable, engaging, and humble. As was said of Jackie Robinson, so was it true for Vince Dooley: he had the capacity to wear glory with grace.

There won’t ever be another like him. Nothing against Kirby Smart, or any other UGA football coach, past, present, or future. But there won’t ever be another one who spends 25 years coaching at the state’s flagship university, wins like he did, steps down in his late 50s after shaping countless young lives, and then spends the next 30+ years continuing to learn, to teach, to give, to serve, to influence all around him, all while drawing from a seemingly bottomless reservoir of energy, time, talent, and kindness.

Traveling the state, making new friends, taking selfies, shaking hands, signing books, telling stories, spreading goodwill everywhere he went—just by being himself, Coach Dooley made the rest of us feel better and be better, and that’s no easy or common thing.

What I shared with him was not exclusive to me: after his death everyone on social media posted a picture of themselves with Coach Dooley. He certainly won football games that we’ll all remember; in the immortal words of Bud Robertson, oh my goodness yes. But Coach Dooley was so much more than that. There’s an old saying that people won’t remember what you said to them, but they’ll remember how you made them feel.

And therein lies Coach Dooley’s true genius: He made us feel, all of us, that we were his friend, that we were important to him, that he enjoyed our company. What a gift to have and to share, and he did it freely and without hesitation long after most of us would have fled to the hills, and he did it every day until his very final days.

I only knew Vince Dooley as a coach from afar, way up in the student section, and I never played for him. But somehow, through the blessing of working for the Georgia Historical Society, I was lucky enough to get to know this man of incredible accomplishment through the playbook of friendship.

As E.B. White wrote so eloquently, “You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing.” Thank you, Coach Dooley, and Godspeed.

Dispatches from Off the Deaton Path: Winning the American Revolution

On the anniversary of the American victory at Yorktown, Stan looks back at how the event unfolded and the role of some notable Georgians that led to the British surrender at Yorktown 241 years ago, resulting ultimately in American independence.


Dispatches from Off the Deaton Path: Casimir Pulaski

On the 243rd anniversary of the Siege of Savannah, Dr. Deaton looks at Casimir Pulaski’s role in the American Revolution and legends and uncertainties over Pulaski’s death and remains.

A Tribute from Across the Pond

This past Monday Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral in London was watched by more than 4 billion people worldwide. It was an historic occasion, the likes of which has never been seen in the United States and rarely anywhere else. There were the inevitable comparisons to the funerals of Princess Diana and Winston Churchill, but neither could match the stature of this one, nor did those of her royal predecessors, all of which took place before the rise of the global media that now connects the world in ways that were unthinkable before.

No funeral of a US president will ever rise to anything like the level of public mourning and grief that we witnessed for twelve days in Great Britain. And there are many reasons for that. American heads of state are elected leaders who, at best, now have the support of about half the electorate. There simply is no unifying figure here whose death would bring us together—not in politics, or sport, or popular culture. If you can think of one, I’m willing to listen. The sad truth is that when one former president dies, many people will gleefully dance in the streets; when another former president dies, people on the other side of the aisle will do the same. In both cases, it will be a sad and sorry spectacle for our country, but somewhat inevitable in the hyper-partisan world in which we live. In this country, politics is now a winner-take-all, no-holds-barred war to the death. It may be in the UK as well, but the Queen transcended that.

For this reason and others, I found myself over the last two weeks envious of our British friends who could and did unite around the Queen in the days after her death. I’m not so naïve as to believe that all Brits liked the Queen or support the monarch—they most certainly do not—but in that unmatched British way, those who don’t kept mostly quiet while the rest of the country paid tribute. What we witnessed instead was a dignified and historic national commemoration of a life that was unmatched in duty and service.

I asked an English friend to talk about this historic moment, to sum up what the Queen and these two weeks have meant to the British people, and what it was like to witness it all close up. What follows is an eloquent tribute.

“Uniquely, we have a constitutional monarchy where the Head of State is unelected and so is ‘above politics’ but nominally has a constitutional oversight of government business. In practice, of course, it is unlikely that the Monarch would over-ride the government, whereas an elected head of state probably would. I don’t need to give you examples of elected heads of state acting like dictators, fixing elections, and over-riding government, most of whom are already in their pockets. We have one or two people who would love to be elected our President, but do we want them? The problem is that if there was an election for head of state, one of them would get in and then probably go the way of others in other countries!

This was the Queen’s strength. She never made her political views public, never criticized the government, but undoubtedly made her views known by suggestion to the Prime Minister of the day in her weekly audiences. King Charles III, when he was the heir to the throne, often meddled in Government business and policy, giving often sensible but unwarranted advice, albeit in private, to Ministers. This will now have to stop, and it is to be hoped that he understands this.

The other strength our late Queen showed was in her character. Although surrounded by the trappings of royalty, away from the limelight, so one reads, she was down to earth, amusing, sharp as a tack, highly intelligent and a thoroughly nice person with a backbone of steel. She had the unfailing knack of getting on with all she met, and this can’t have been easy on State visits: Nicolae Ceausescu, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, to mention a few and then, of course, at the Commonwealth conferences there were people like Robert Mugabe!

I believe that her crowning show of tact and diplomacy was shaking hands with Martin McGuinness, a reformed senior member of the IRA. This act did more than anything else to find a solution to peace in Northern Ireland

The issue for the future is whether or not Charles can continue in that vein. He will never be his mother, but on the strength of the last few days, while he might not have all her qualities, he has shown an awareness, compassion, and sensibility which I don’t think many people thought he possessed. All this while grieving in public for a mother he adored.

The Queen’s funeral was watched by 28 million people in the UK, a quarter of a million filed past her coffin as it lay in state in Westminster Hall and the numbers who witnessed the coffin as it was carried on its various journeys were impossible to count. One only has to look at the TV coverage to see the numbers involved. This perhaps will be her greatest legacy, that in her death she united the country. Divisions of race, creed, and culture were ignored, and people came together, some in grief and some not, to remember her.

The King’s Consort, Camilla, summed it up. When the Queen came to the throne, she was a lone woman in a male-dominated club of world leaders. When she died, she was revered and respected by nearly all and was perhaps the most prominent statesman in the world, a fact borne out in that over 100 countries were represented at the funeral. This was ‘soft power’ working to the good of the UK, and the world.

The funeral itself was simple, but the pageantry and precision which surrounded it will never be forgotten. Could any other country have put on such a display?

We have lost a much-loved Monarch, the likes of whom is unlikely to be seen again in the country, or indeed, anywhere else in the world.”