Paying tribute to a wise man who made a difference

by | November 29, 2011 4:03 pm



   Today, I ask for a moment of personal privilege. It was two

years ago this week that I wrote about the Three Wise Men that have

so greatly influenced my life: Roy Hodnett, a real estate magnate

on Saint Simons Island; Dr. Raymond Cook, my college professor, now

residing in Valdosta and John W. Jacobs, Jr., a broadcast pioneer

and philanthropist from Gainesville. All three in their 90s or

close to it. All three a part of the Greatest Generation. All three

family men of faith. I could not have asked for better role


   Last week, John Jacobs died. I am richer for his having been in

my life and poorer now that he is gone. Ironically, I spoke to the

Gainesville Kiwanis Club a couple of weeks ago and was able to

share the head table with my brother, Bob, and John and Martha

Jacobs. It doesn’t get any better than that. While John had

suffered a stroke earlier, there was little evidence that he had

slowed down as we reminisced about our long association together,

going back to the days when two colleagues of mine from WSB Radio

and I had broadcast the Gainesville High School football games on

his radio station.

   Our lives intertwined over the years. I joined the telephone

company and came in contact with Jacobs through my various job

responsibilities. Southern Bell was a hierarchal organization which

meant the higher you moved up in management, the more influence you

had and the more that people who had ignored you down the ladder

suddenly discovered what a neat guy you were. Not John Jacobs.

Whether I was regularly mispronouncing the name of the Gainesville

quarterback on the Friday night broadcasts those many decades ago

or we were conducting serious business on behalf of our respective

organizations years later, he was always gracious, always a

gentleman. Our relationship never changed.

   In the meantime, his own media empire was expanding. From one

small radio station to a successful cable franchise he later sold

until today where Jacobs Media owns three radio stations, an online

newspaper and a travel service. Behind the nice guy persona was a

razor-sharp mind. No one ever questioned his business acuity.

   Still, John would tell you his greatest accomplishment was his

marriage to Martha, his soul mate of 53 years and two children they

raised and who carry on in the business and the seven


   The biblical injunction, “From everyone who has been given much,

much will be demanded,” sums up John Jacobs. Except good works were

not demanded of him. He did them because it was the right thing to

do. There is not enough space available here to list all of his

contributions to Gainesville and to Northeast Georgia.

   The generosity of his time and tithes is legendary. From Brenau

University to Riverside Military Academy to the Northeast Georgia

History Center to his church, Grace Episcopal Church — all these

institutions prospered and grew under the influence and leadership

of John Jacobs.

    I have had the privilege to be involved in a number of special

moments in John’s life.   A few years ago, I was asked to be the

keynote speaker at a dinner at Riverside Academy honoring the great

man’s career and his many contributions to his community. It looked

to me as if the entire city of Gainesville turned out to pay him

homage that evening. During a video tribute to Jacobs it was

revealed that during World War II, he had earned not one, but two

Silver Stars. It took many in the audience — including me — by

surprise. The Silver Star is the third-highest combat decoration

that can be awarded to a member of the military for valor in the

face of the enemy. John got two of them. And he never talked about

it. He had done his duty for his country and moved on to the rest

of his life. That tells you more about John Jacobs than I can in

this short space.

   If you are even the most casual observer of this column you have

no doubt read on more than one occasion my assertion that we are

placed on earth for only one reason — to leave this a better world

than we found it. I can think of no one — no one — who did it

better than John Jacobs. He made a lot of lives better, most

particularly mine, and I am going to miss this wise man very


   You can reach Dick Yarbrough at or

P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.


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