I called them the Three Wise Men. They came not bearing gifts of gold, myrrh and frankincense. They brought service, dedication and integrity. And as with all wise men, they lived their example.
No exotic names like Gaspar, Melchior and Balthazar. Theirs were ordinary names: John. Roy. Raymond. But they were anything but ordinary. Although they were never to meet, they shared a common bond. They were members of the Greatest Generation, strong family men, devout in their faith and highly successful in their particular fields of endeavor. They made this a better world by their presence and made me a better person for having known them.
Some years ago, I wrote in this space about John Jacobs of Gainesville, Roy Hodnett of St. Simons Island and Raymond Cook of Valdosta, referring to them as the Three Wise Men. Thank God that they were around to read it and to know what they meant to me. Today I come to honor their memory.
John Jacobs passed away in 2011, a few days shy of his 89th birthday. Roy Hodnett died this past April at the age of 98. Two weeks ago, Raymond Cook died three weeks before he would have turned 100.
John Jacobs was a successful businessman who turned a small radio station in Gainesville into a media conglomerate. Not content to bask in his business achievements, Jacobs put much of his time, energy and dollars back into making Gainesville and Hall County a better place to live.
At the other end of the state, Roy Hodnett operated a real estate empire on Georgia’s coast. In a highly competitive business driven by dollars and deals, his word was his bond. A contract with Roy Hodnett could be as simple as a handshake.
Raymond Cook, as I have said many times, came along at a pivotal time in my life. An English professor at Georgia State University, he motivated me to stay in college by his inspirational teaching. I would not be doing what I am today had it not been for Cook.
What made these men so special to me? In the first place, they taught me that success and kindness are not incompatible. All rose to the top of their professions while treating people with respect. To a man, they were eternal optimists and seemed to bring out the best in people, a trait I am still trying to master.
All were extremely humble when they had every right not to be. I had known Jacobs for many years and was aware of his military service in World War II, but only when I was asked to emcee a tribute to him in Gainesville did I learn he had earned two Silver Stars for heroism in battle.
Hodnett was involved in some of the heaviest fighting in the war and was seriously wounded in the Battle of the Bulge. He spent 14 months in the hospital and returned home with a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, a gimpy leg and a love for his fellow man that even a war could not kill.
Cook was a distinguished educator, author and my beloved professor. He was also the smartest person I ever knew. How smart was he?
He owned a 1939 Rolls Royce that had once been the property of Col. Jacob Schick, the Canadian razor magnate. In redoing the wiring in the automobile, he discovered that what the manual said did not work. He improvised, found a solution and informed Rolls Royce that their manual was incorrect. The company checked it out, agreed and rewrote the manual. That is how smart he was.
All three men were active right up to the end of their distinguished lives and remained my role models. Jacobs instilled in me the importance of good citizenship. Hodnett taught me to treat people as I would like to be treated. Cook made me a man and, try as I might, I could never thank him enough.
I will forever be grateful that I met and knew and learned from these Three Wise Men. I am also glad I had the good sense to convey my love and respect for them in a column while they were here to enjoy it. Now they are gone. I will miss them, but I will never forget them and what they meant to me. God bless them. God bless their memory.