Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith
A conversation with Fred Webster is a reminder that we all fall in one of two categories: you are either growing old or someday you will be. If you’re in the latter grouping, the former will come sooner than you think.
Nobody has ever been able to turn back the clock, but the best way to manage the aging process is to not worry about it and find a way to enjoy the journey. For example, Fred was the most passionate of Georgia fans for over 65 years, but at age 92, he and his wife, Jane, simply choose to watch the Bulldogs on television. “It is hard not to be there in person anymore,” Fred said, “but we don’t do well in crowds. Getting from the parking lot to the stands and climbing to our seats is something we just had to give up.”
Every fall Saturday morning, however, they plan their day around kickoff. They dress in red and black, listen to all the pre-game shows and prepare their own tailgate party. They miss the leisurely drive up Highway 15 to Athens for the games. They miss fans riding along side them, waving their flags and shakers and honking their horns-greeting them with that “Go Dawgs” spirit that they enjoyed for so many years. “The University of Georgia has enriched our lives,” Fred smiled.
The aging process doesn’t keep them from following the games, and it doesn’t keep them from reflecting on the past and recalling those high moments in Sanford Stadium (and wherever Georgia played) which they witnessed first hand: Theron Sapp Breaking the Drought, the flea flicker versus Alabama, Belue to Scott, Munson’s “hobnail boot” game in Knoxville, Herschel taking Georgia over the top in the Sugar Bowl in 1980.
Fred never painted his face, he never positioned himself for a camera pan or photo-op. He never wanted a seat on the Athletic Board, he never wanted to be invited to lunch at the President’s home — all he wanted was to see the Bulldogs triumph on Saturday afternoon between the hedges and hear the chapel bell ring.
Fred remains a caring and unselfish fan. He wants no glory or special favors for his loyalty. If he had been acclaimed as Georgia’s greatest fan — it would be difficult to find one to outrank him — the honor would have gone to his heart and not his head. For years Fred purchased season tickets to football, men’s and women’s basketball, and gymnastics. “I didn’t think I would enjoy gymnastics, but I went because my wife wanted to and I fell in love with the sport.”
Sitting with Fred and his friend Tommy Walker, from Sandersville, brought about a gentle bump to my emotions; to see someone his age expressing his love of alma mater, gives you the sense that, although there will surely be passionate Dawg fans into the next millennium, it would be difficult to find one with greater pure feelings for his school and who expects nothing in return. Warm and generous feelings ensue when you spend time with the Fred Websters of the world.
After earning a degree in agriculture in 1947, Fred taught school for 14 years in Chester and Cochran. He moved to Sparta in 1960, becoming a rural mail carrier, which allowed him to pursue his deep passion for hunting and fishing. He would finish delivering the mail by noon, then grab his shotgun and go “bust a few quail” or stalk a big buck in the woods. He found places to fish year round at his friends’ ponds and Lake Sinclair.
As he talked, looking down was a mount of a 10-point buck he shot at age 89. He kept seeing the buck snoop around his back yard. One morning he saw the buck pressing his luck, moving casually in the early morning twilight. Before you could yell, “Go Dawgs,” Fred had not only a nice mount for the wall, but plenty of venison for the freezer. All it took was one crack shot.
Fred Webster looks back on a fulfilled life, one in which he enjoyed its modest delights. Nobody has ever enjoyed work and play more than this Dawg for all seasons.
Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.