For the past 30 years that I knew him, Pell City’s ultimate mover and shaker was Dick Whatley, who passed away little more than a week ago after an extended illness claimed him at age 85.
As a young reporter coming to a new town to tell its story, it didn’t take me long to recognize who cared, but more important, who cared enough to get involved and make the city a better place.
I didn’t know much about him and his past life as a decorated lieutenant colonel who spent two tours of duty in Vietnam. And it wasn’t until recent years I found out that he came from a small town in southwest Alabama that bears his family name.
When I was publisher of The Daily Home, he brought me a newspaper with a column by Jacksonville State University’s Hardy Jackson in it, and told me I needed to run it on a regular basis. Turns out, they were from the same neck of the woods, and he was proud of those roots and knew Jackson’s words were important to share with our own readers.
I did as I was told, knowing Dick wouldn’t steer me wrong.
Sometimes we disagreed on issues, but I always knew his heart was exactly where it should be, and he was motivated by what he thought was right at the time.
Among the many “rights” in his life and the community he loved enough to be its mover and shaker was how he used his career in real estate to move Pell City forward. When the Pell City School System, the library, Habitat for Humanity and the property on which Jefferson State Community College, St. Vincent’s St. Clair and the Col. Robert L. Howard Veterans Home now stand needed a facilitator for growth, Dick was there — moving and shaking things up as usual.
When veterans decided to build a monument in front of the St. Clair County Courthouse to honor its fallen heroes, Dick was there to make sure — through his own research and personal contributions — that all were included.
He volunteered to drive veterans to and from medical facilities when they had no other means. He paid countless water bills for folks who simply couldn’t afford it. And he served his church, Pell City First United Methodist, on just about every level possible.
It was Dick who worked behind the scenes to help secure new quarters for the Love Pantry food bank when more space and better facilities were needed. He initiated Rotary Club’s effort on behalf of the Love Pantry to provide holiday hams for those less fortunate. It now is an annual tradition.
And if requests for food exceeded what the Love Pantry could afford to provide, it was Dick who made sure enough money came in to cover the requests.
When Alabama waged “water wars” with Georgia over that state’s attempt to limit flows downstream on the Coosa River, it was Dick and others who were instrumental in forming the Logan Martin Lake Protection Association.
He was a giver, never expecting anything in return nor the recognition for it. But accolades did come his way — not enough of them — but they did come. He was Pell City’s Citizen of the Year. He was president of the St. Clair Board of Realtors and Pell City Rotary Club.
He always managed to live the Rotary creed, Service Above Self, and Pell City was the better for it.
His family says he would often say that as a boy, he came from a poor family but didn’t know it. As a man, this behind-the-scenes mover and shaker made Pell City richer, even if not everyone knows that either.
Carol Pappas, Pell City