• Michelle Dean

An Open Letter to Grady County



There are 2 American flags waving outside my front gate at Popes Museum. These banners stand as sentries, pointing toward the character and ideals of the individuals ­that Laura Pope Forester memorialized in her 26-foot wall of statues and marble. Today, 75 years after the creation of this masterpiece, these are the same values our town lives out.


Who are we?


Men and women who live out values such as bravery, dedication, leadership and valor.


Just as the wall highlights the brave women who wore a military uniform during WWII, there is the bravery seen in Lara, a young woman who works with her hands building cabinets and sanding 150-year-old floors. She is facing cancer squarely, knowing that God is good, even while dealing with her unknown future. Bravely facing an unknown future by doing what we can to create victory: This is who we are.


Just as there is the dedication on the wall to General Eisenhower and General MacArthur and their leadership, there is the leadership of Chris. Once a revolving door in the county jail, he now uses his past mistakes as a vehicle to share with others a means to get them out. He goes and shows, not just tells and sells. Leading others out of a totalitarian government or out from life of addiction. This is who we are.


Just as the marble slab honoring WWII casualty Eugene Cone and his uncle WWI casualty Roy Sadler connects family, there is the staff and atmosphere of Center Drugs. Throughout the year you can see my children and I playing a quick game of checkers, sharing an ice cream cone from the soda fountain there in this community atmosphere. Building family, the cornerstone of a strong community. This is who we are.


There are over 40 local men honored on that wall right on Popes Store Road, men from various cultural and economic backgrounds, but all of them Grady County men whose lives were laid down to create a home of the free. Each of these servants are listed by name. Each of them has a story to tell. We may not have much call to lay down our lives unto death here, but we do have servant leaders.


There is Linda and other staff members at Magnolia Place. Serving minute by minute, Linda patiently assists her resident in crossing the room, literally one step at a time, counting “1-2-3-4-5 rest, 1-2-3-4-5 rest”. She does it with a smile on her face, sincerely proud of each step they’ve made together.


There is Tim at the Drew Gas Station who fills up my car and my gas cans, smiling as he does it. Never do I compete with an insulting sound system as he is conversing with me. Instead there is a man who does his job in fitting, clean clothes and always a “Thank you Ma’am”.


There is Pherrill and Marcus at Quality LP Gas who made more than one phone call and more than one service visit to find a repair part for a stove. Not because they sold the stove, but because they installed the gas that the stove uses.


Space does not allow me to share of the Rotary dinners honoring the top 10% of our students, the community wide gospel choirs, the travel clubs for our community sponsored by our local banks, and the stability of the city hall tuning out songs that speak of life and grace that chime every hour in our downtown. This is who we are and what we are.


We are a community that shows respect and humanity to each other, modeling true patriotism as we live out our lives. The men and women who make our headlines may be elected by our fellow citizens, but they are not an accurate representation of what I see weekly.


The season of patriotism and waving the flag is upon us. Our national banner of red, white and blue are waving proudly at Popes Museum. But here in Cairo, GA we live it more than one week a year.


“Patriotism is love of country. But you can't love your country without loving your countrymen and countrywomen.” Cory Booker got those words right; but


Here in Cairo, Georgia, it is who we are.


NOTE: Laura Pope Forester created an environment that honored our hometown heroes. Listed on this 26-foot-long wall are the names of our Grady County heroes of 1943, 1944 and 1945. The honor wall lists each name of the men who did not make it back to our home town. Forty in all. These are our own families that gave up a son, a father, a brother, a husband. Scores of our own Grady County citizens are unaware of this treasure that is featured in the Library of Congress, the Denver, CO airport and the Smithsonian Magazine. See www.popesmuseum.com/projects for how you can help.

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