Columnist: The Garden Club — nurturing great ideas

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 4, 2016

Loran Smith

Syndicated columnist

A libation and conversation at the end of the day. Great minds have affiliated with that ritual throughout history.

Not sure if Socrates did it, but without doubt, it was an uplifting endeavor for Winston Churchill. My guess is that it was a social feature in the lives of Adam and Eve and probably Tarzan and Jane. Jungle poteen mixed with coconut milk had to elevate the spirits. We know that such social mixing and conversation was a must for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor — and, of course, on someone else’s tab.

In a latter day, a triumvirate of University employees, of varied professional inclinations — a forester, a plant pathologist and a coach — gathered not to solve the world’s problems but to narrate its vicissitudes with humor and a cynical bent. They had a name for their society — The Garden Club.

Their hallmarks were abiding love of the University of Georgia, nonsensical humor and unending goodwill. On the side, they tended a garden which brought forth a largesse, which they shared with friends and neighbors. When it came to social status, they were commoners not lords. They would get your ox out of the ditch. They could have authored the golden rule. They underscored faith, hope and charity.

Most often, they gathered at the home of Bill Powell, where there was acreage for their garden. They nurtured with rapt commitment things that grew and bloomed, which brought forth emotional fulfillment at harvest. The conclusion was never in stone, but immodestly noted that to be a successful farmer, according to PP&C, you had to become an aficionado of Budweiser, which was always accompanied by uproarious laughter and good neighborly frivolity.

All three had a UGA athletic connection. Reid Parker and Powell were long time faculty chairmen of athletics. Dick Copas came to town with Joel Eaves and Vince Dooley to serve as the Bulldogs’ athletic trainer, later transitioning into men’s golf coach. Parker later became athletic director for administration. On bowl trips and other outings and gatherings, they, with their wives, were birds of a feather. You never saw one without the others. That fraternal bond tightened as they grew older. They were not brothers, but espoused brotherly love.

Parker and Powell were distinguished faculty members with the University for decades. Each was highly regarded and appreciated, not only on campus but with other institutions. Their loyalty and respect for integrity in sport was appreciated by their counterparts at other Southeastern Conference schools.

They were conservative leaning, but they were also open-minded, which allowed for Parker’s daughter, Ann, to join them when she came home from California.

“They invited me in and made me feel that I was one of them,” she says. “Bill Powell, whom we all called ‘Willie,’ could hardly finish a story he started because he laughed so hard at his own joke. They had T-shirts made up with the name ‘Garden Club.’ They gave me one, and I was so proud. There are many times when I put that shirt on and go drink a Budweiser in memory of my dad and his two best friends.”

Parker passed away five years ago. The Garden Club would never be the same.

Last year, Bill Powell joined that great faculty in the sky, leaving Copas, who carries on, grateful for the memories.

“After Reid passed away, Bill and I continued for a while,” Copas says. “It was tough. We hurt. The Budweisers were not as good, and we didn’t laugh as much, then Bill began to fail. It is so tough when you lose friends like that.

“My recollection is that we started our club in the late ’60s. A lot of staff members with the Bulldogs would often come and join us. We shared with them what we grew. We grew tomatoes, peas, butterbeans, corn, cantaloupe, greens — you name it.”

Even now, you can sense the depression in Copas’ voice.

“What a time we had!” he said in exclamation. “They were great Bulldogs,” he said of Parker and Powell. “Two of the finest Bulldogs ever were members of our faculty.”

A serendipitous development, however, will allow family and friends to appreciate the good deeds, the contributions and the life and times of the Garden Club to live on. The Georgia Athletic Association, with an assist from John and Kay Parker, will designate a section of the right field stands, behind the Georgia dugout at Foley Field, as the “Garden Club Terrace.”

Saturday before the Alabama game at Foley Field, there was a ceremony and unveiling of a plaque in memory of Parker and Powell and to the survivor, Dick Copas, member of Georgia’s Hall of Fame, the Circle of Honor — Damn Good Dawgs for all seasons.

Loran Smith is an athletic administrator at the University of Georgia.