After an appointment with banker Jimmy Talent of United Community Banks in nearby Blairsville, I took Highway 76 East to this town of Hiawassee on the river by the same name to see an ageless gentleman who just keeps rolling along. Like the Hiawassee which flows north into North Carolina and gets its name from the Cherokee Indian word "ayuhwasi," which means savannah or meadow.
While the rush to find property and build second homes has slowed in recent months, there remains keen interest in this part of the state. Much of that has to do with affection for a community where the living is easy. Nobody seems to enjoy the easygoing lifestyle of Towns County more than Dick Paris, who is spitting in the eye of Father Time.
He also says that spending time following his favorite football team -- the Georgia Bulldogs -- helps keep him young. Football season has finally arrived, and nobody is more excited than the 96-year-old Paris who, with his son Dan, runs Paris Hardware here on Main Street.
Recently, I caught up with the senior Paris on the back deck of his expansive store. He seemed to be in a reflective mood as he surveyed the mountains in the distance and talked about his affection for the Dawgs.
The lean and sprightly Paris arrives for work every morning at 7 a.m. and leaves at 6 p.m. six days a week and believes good health and longevity are attributable to the work ethic. In the fall, his routine is altered slightly. Work five days a week, Georgia football on Saturday, and church on Sunday.
With Dick Paris, the good life is the simple life. Enjoy your work and surroundings. Make friends and extend the neighborly way to all who come your way. He has never written a book. A book has not been written about him. He has never been recognized by the state Legislature. The president has never called him. He has never heard from the governor.
What he is is a great American. You don't have to be elected senator or governor to be a great American. You don't have to win the Nobel Prize to be a great American. You don't have to have a book written about your life to be a great American. All you have to do to be a great American is follow the golden rule, work hard, earn your keep, pay your bills, treat your fellow man with respect, and embrace the tenets of faith, hope and charity. This has been Dick Paris's life.
His attitude as a fan of Georgia football tells you much about him. He derives pleasure from -- and does not find fault with -- the Bulldogs when they play on Saturday afternoon. No matter who is coaching, no matter how disappointing a game ends. "I love going down to Athens on Saturday. It is a wonderful experience," he says.
A native of Paulding County, Paris was graduated from Hiram High School and enrolled at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton in 1937. He played baseball while at ABAC and then transferred to the University of Georgia, graduating in 1940.
Following graduation, like all able-bodied young men his age, he was faced with military duty. In 1943, he joined the Army and spent much of his time in Ireland with a logistics assignment. After the war, he began buying Georgia football tickets. "Except for two or three years," he has been a faithful supporter for over seven decades. He rides down to Athens from Hiawassee with his son, Dan; his nephew Lamar, and Lamar's wife, Dinah.
Paris is Georgia's oldest living season-ticket buyer with only one issue -- getting home at midnight when the Bulldogs play after sundown. But even that doesn't make him complain. Great Americans don't grumble. They always accentuate the positive.
Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.