SMITH COLUMN: Remembering Chester Leathers
Published 9:30 am Thursday, June 23, 2022
The death of an old friend always brings about flashbacks to happier times, when life was uncomplicated, settled and harmonious for the most part. It makes one lament that the ultimate separation has come about, but there is rejoicing in that he came your way.
A native of the Classic City of Athens, Chester Leathers, early on, developed an obsessive bent for the University of Georgia, all sports, Varsity hot dogs, the iconic YMCA and Friday Night Lights.
He grew up on West View Drive, a tree lined street, with a mother who was as expert in the kitchen as Paula Deen. Pearl Leathers loved cooking for her family — three meals a day — considering that it was her moral duty to turn a horn of plenty into a mealtime event. She was into vegetables, biscuits and desserts.
Her spreads were akin to what you would find at boarding houses.
The preachment that “man cannot live by bread alone,” would not have been apropos with her.
For sure, a batch of her hot buttered biscuits would have been sustenance enough for one to make it through an entire day.
Chester and his older brother, Frederick, were welcomed to bring their friends home with them at mealtime.
I never saw the Athens High football team show up for lunch, but if someone were to tell me that had happened a time or two, I would not be surprised.
The patriarch, Fred Leathers, Sr., was one of three brothers who owned a local manufacturing plant which had a patent on the cardboard guard which covered metal clothes hangers. That enabled a guy to protect the crease in his pants, no small thing in those years when dressing smart was in, sloppy and disheveled was out. Nothing like a double crease or crease askew to make one a pariah at the office or a cocktail party.
Fred Sr. was the oldest, Claude, a longtime fixture at the Athens Country Club, the youngest, and the middle brother, Milton, was celebrated for having been a member of the 1929 Georgia team which defeated Yale in the dedicatory game between-the-hedges. The infant hedges were less than three feet tall but were in place for that first game.
Red and his All-America teammate, Red Maddox — with a couple of other team members who were blonde, sanguine or had red hair — caused the team to become known as the “Flaming Sophomores.” Red played professionally with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Eventually the patent on the aforementioned guard expired, and there was not room in the company for third generation family members, so they segued into other vocations.
Chester, an ROTC advocate, following military service, began a career at the Georgia Center for Education on the UGA campus, moonlighting as a spotter for the popular Ed Thilenius who called Athens High and Georgia football games. Chester’s memory was encyclopedic, his enthusiasm over the top and his mind was always active and inquiring.
He earned a masters degree in Social Sciences from the University of Chicago, and in short order became knowledgeable about the legendary football icon, Amos Alonzo Stagg, who coached there before the institution gave up football.
It came as no surprise to Chester’s many friends when he came back home after time in the Windy City to work at UGA where he earned a doctorate in education.
His career path took him to the University of Florida in Gainesville, of all places. He was, believe it or not, elected to political office in his adopted hometown.
Afterwards, he quipped, “A Bulldog can win in Gainesville, Florida.”
He never lost his love for the Bulldogs. A teammate and close friend of Fran Tarkenton, he spoke at Fran’s 80th birthday party, bringing along his stepsons who had as much sentiment for the Florida Gators as Chester did the Bulldogs.
I will always remember the day when he was a conference coordinator at the Georgia Center that a black conferee showed up for a conference in the early sixties.
Many in the building panicked in those segregated times, but not Chester. He made no fuss about it, told his superior he was going to welcome the gentleman to the conference, knowing full well that some fool legislator might raise a stink about it. Chester was willing to take the heat. Fortunately, nobody protested.
Earlier this week, I went over to the Bulldog Bistro at the Georgia Center and ordered a cup of coffee and reflected on Chester’s past, raising a toast to him as people shuffled about. Leaving for that next world with an honorable legacy has to be comforting for those one leaves behind.