Today, I ask for a moment of personal privilege. It was two years ago this week that I wrote about the Three Wise Men who have so greatly influenced my life: Roy Hodnett, a real estate magnate on Saint Simons Island; Dr. Raymond Cook, my college professor, now residing in Valdosta and John W. Jacobs Jr., a broadcast pioneer and philanthropist from Gainesville. All three are in their 90s or close to it. All three are a part of the Greatest Generation. All three are family men of faith. I could not have asked for better role models.
Last week, John Jacobs died. I am richer for his having been in my life and poorer now that he is gone. I spoke to the Gainesville Kiwanis Club a couple of weeks ago and was able to share the head table with my brother, Bob, and John and Martha Jacobs. It doesn’t get any better than that. While John had suffered a stroke earlier, there was little evidence that he had slowed down as we reminisced about our long association together, going back to the days when two colleagues of mine from WSB Radio and I broadcast the Gainesville High School football games on his radio station.
Our lives intertwined through the years. I joined the telephone company and came in contact with Jacobs through my various job responsibilities. Southern Bell was a hierarchal organization, which meant the higher you moved up in management, the more influence you had and the more people who had ignored you down the ladder suddenly discovered what a neat guy you were. Not John Jacobs.
Whether I was regularly mispronouncing the name of the Gainesville quarterback on the Friday night broadcasts those many decades ago or conducting serious business on behalf of our respective organizations years later, he was always gracious, always a gentleman. Our relationship never changed.
In the meantime, John’s own media empire was expanding from one small radio station to a successful cable franchise he later sold to the current Jacobs Media, which owns three radio stations, an online newspaper and a travel service. Behind the nice guy persona was a razor-sharp mind. No one ever questioned his business acuity.
Still, John would tell you his greatest accomplishments were his marriage to Martha, his soul mate of 53 years, two children they raised who carry on in the business and the seven grandchildren they were blessed with.
The biblical injunction, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded,” sums up John Jacobs; except, good works were not demanded of him. He did them because it was the right thing to do. There is not enough space available here to list all of his contributions to Gainesville and to Northeast Georgia.
The generosity of his time and tithes is legendary. From Brenau University to Riverside Military Academy to the Northeast Georgia History Center to his Grace Episcopal Church — all these institutions prospered and grew under the influence and leadership of John Jacobs.
I have had the privilege of being involved in a number of special moments in John’s life. A few years ago, I was asked to be the keynote speaker at a dinner at Riverside Academy honoring the great man’s career and his many contributions to his community. It looked to me as if the entire city of Gainesville turned out to pay him homage that evening. During a video tribute to Jacobs it was revealed that during World War II he had earned not one but two Silver Stars. It took many in the audience — including me — by surprise.
The Silver Star is the third-highest combat decoration that can be awarded to a member of the military for valor in the face of the enemy. John got two of them. And he never talked about it. He had done his duty for his country and moved on to the rest of his life. That tells you more about John Jacobs than I can in this short space.
If you are even the most casual observer of this column you have no doubt read on more than one occasion my assertion that we are placed on earth for only one reason — to leave this a better world than we found it. I can think of no one — no one — who did it better than John Jacobs. He made a lot of lives better, most particularly mine, and I am going to miss this wise man very much.
You can reach Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Ga., 31139.