Athens City Councilman Jimmy Gill has gone home for good, having fought a long and brave battle with cancer. He passed on Easter Sunday, nearly a week after his 68th birthday, and I spent a good part of the next day mourning, celebrating his life, and collecting “Jimmy stories.” This Athens Now edition of What Makes Ronnie Roll on page 19 has been given to Holly Hollman, who had been working with Mayor Marks for the last two weeks to put together a statement fitting of our dear friend. Facebook blew up with memories and condolences for the family and for the community. For my part, I want to do my best to put together a comforting “crazy quilt” of “Jimmy stories,” both for you, dear reader, and for my own sake. The more stories I heard, the more I realized that all of us are “just gonna be missin’ Jimmy” for a very long time.
Monday morning I walked into Mayor Ronnie’s office for our usual appointment, and both he and Annette Barnes Threet arrived not long after. The Mayor was sporting a shirt and tie Jimmy had given him a few years ago. The tie was a busy black and gold print, the shirt was two toned harvest gold with French cuffs. I just knew that he had to have been wearing it in honor of his dear friend. Jimmy had given the shirt and tie to Ronnie because he wanted him to be an even snazzier dresser, and Sandra Marks had taken a picture of her husband the Mayor and posted it on Facebook on Monday morning before he left for City Hall.
“It’s a sad day,” Annette said. So for lack of any other way to describe it, we had our own impromptu memorial service for one of the longest sitting City Councilmen in the state. As has been said elsewhere, Jimmy had nicknames for everybody. Vicki Dowd was “Li’l Red.” Annette was “’Nette.” Ronnie was “The Thin Man.” The late Dan Williams was “Big Daddy,” and Vicki still refers to him that way. Someone else was “Playah.” Another who had been in a Poke Sallet skit entitled “Triplets” was “Li’l Sister.” The joke was, she was white. The names went on, as did the stories, Jimmy as the pirate, Jimmy as the Philadelphia lawyer, Jimmy as the Master Griller, and then we moved to the subject of Jimmy’s garden.
Monday morning Annette had looked in her freezer, and saw some of “Jimmy’s peas,” straight from the garden Jimmy kept every year. There were also still some frozen bags of his famous ribs. “We had a deal,” she said. “He kept me in peas and ribs, and at Christmas I kept him in eggnog and Alton Brown’s fruitcake recipe. He told me that one year, he had planned on having just one slice, but ate the whole thing in one sitting.”
The friendship between Ronnie and Jimmy was long, deep and funny. Ronnie’s brother used to tease them about being brothers closer than kin. No one could do an impersonation of Jimmy’s raspy voice better than Ronnie, and for a good part of our time together he acted out improv skits playing both parts. I laughed hard, even as a sad tear or two slid down my cheek. There were tales about Roscoe the dog, Meathead, Beavis and Butthead, (his rascally nicknames for his grandkids), but my personal favorite was the “termite story.” One time, during a City Council work session, a spirited discussion occurred regarding the kind of investment the City was going to have to make to restore the Houston Library. “We don’t know what we’ll find when we go in there,” Mayor Ronnie said. “I’ll tell you what we’ll find,” said Jimmy. “We’ll find termites holding up the building by holding hands, and they’ll look at us and say, ‘Heah we is!’”
Years ago, Jimmy gave Ronnie another shirt, bright purple, long sleeved, but with 34 inch sleeves, rather than the necessary 37 inches required to cover the long arms of the Thin Man. The Thin Man kept the shirt, and truth is, now Ronnie owns Trinity Colors as genuine and spiffy as Jimmy’s.
What the rest of us own forever are memories that are as sweet and complex as the sauce Jimmy used on his ribs, and it will be one tall order to fill his shoes. Rest in peace, dear Jimmy, and see you sooner than probably most of us can imagine. Until then, we’ll just be missin’ ya.
Jimmy Gill’s service will be held at Lindsay Lane Baptist Church on Saturday, April 2nd, at 2:30 pm. The church is located at 1300 Lindsay Lane, Athens, AL 35613.