SMITH COLUMN: Dick Ferguson

Published 10:30 am Thursday, January 26, 2023

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Down on the farm, yesteryear, there were no button-down shirts existing for the country boys I knew. When I learned about button-downs, little did I know that the style originated with polo players in the 1800s.

Seems that the shirt collars of the polo aficionados in England were always flapping in the wind and bringing about frustrating distraction. Hence, button-down shirts. John Brooks, of the fine clothier, Brooks Brothers, took a liking to the style and popularized it in the U. S.

I thought that button-down shirts originated with Dick Ferguson’s Men’s Store on Clayton Street in Athens. That is where I was introduced to the style in my days on campus.

Ferguson’s was the place to shop for many college males, especially if you wanted a red and black diagonally striped tie, the unofficial tie of UGA.  When you became a senior and could enjoy a walk in the senior parade at halftime of the homecoming game, you found your way to Ferguson’s and purchased a planter’s style hat and a short walking cane. For decades the friendly, smiling son of the founder of the popular Athens men’s store would be there to wait on you.    

Dick was four years old when his father died, and he began helping his ebullient mother, Mary, run the store as soon as he learned to make change and master a tape measure. His mother, in addition to running the store, played the piano for the Athens Rotary Club.

The pleasant sounds from the lively chords she played were sorely needed for a group of men who “couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket” but doing their best with award winning lyrics such as: “R  O  T  A  R Y, that spells Rotary.”  

I can remember the first button-down shirt I bought at Dick Ferguson’s.  I was so excited that I wanted to wear it every day.  Sleeping in it, I thought, would be a good idea. As time elapsed, I shopped at Dick Ferguson’s for all clothing needs.  I wasn’t a great customer since I didn’t have a great budget. Later on, my son, Kent, and Dick’s youngest son, Ed, became a friend and fraternity brother. Ferguson’s has always been our shopping home.

When the patriarch passed away last weekend, there was an emotional urge to reflect on Dick’s legacy and his stylish clothing store.  He made friends quickly and easily. He was laid back and low key. In my mind’s eye, I can see him propping on one of the counters that held an assorted collection of button-down shirts and other dry goods, perhaps in conversation with one of his gentlemanly salesmen, Ralph Almond.

The topic, you could always bet, was about the Bulldogs.  Dick was imbued with a love of UGA that was unsurpassed. A classmate was Fran Tarkenton with whom Dick developed a rapport when the famous quarterback was first flashing brilliance on the football field at old Athens High.

Chatting up his customers about the “Dogs — Dick predated Dawgs — was good for business but it became a pastime that made you want to drop in even if you were not on a shopping spree. He wasn’t about gossip and criticism — just a genuine interest in and an abiding love of his favorite team which was forever the “talk of the town.”

Many Georgia athletes shopped with Ferguson’s.  In the fall when you stopped by the week of a big game on campus, it was like “old home week.”   

There might be a high school buddy who connected with a livelihood at a distant address, or an SAE brother from the Dick’s time on campus, dropping by to shop but also to enjoy the reminiscing sessions which were a staple of a visit to Ferguson’s.

I took Dick to play golf for the first time at the Green Hills Country Club.  Tarkenton joined us, too — two Athens legends from two different walks of life.

With the downtown parking crunch in the eighties, Dick moved his store to Beechwood shopping center. 

Later, he had difficulty standing on his feet all day and eased into retirement, but his son Dick III, and brothers, John and Ed, worked together to make sure the store remained in business.

That is a good thing.  

You don’t want storied community institutions to disappear. It gives those of us who knew the patriarch a link to the past and good feelings for the future with the Dick Ferguson’s legacy continuing.  Dick Ferguson was a devoted ‘Dog for all seasons.