On August 24, 2006 this paper published my column entitled "Going Home - A Tribute to John Paul Souther (1915-2006)”. Lt. Colonel (Retired) Souther entitled Chapter 11 in his memorable book, War Not Forgotten, "Going Home." As he returned from rigorous service in World War II in the North African and Italian Campaigns, he was finally "going home" to see his wife, Virginia Parks Souther and his thirty-month old son, Billy, whom he had not seen before.
Then on Friday, August 18, 2006, Lt. Colonel Souther had his final "Going Home" as he crossed quietly into the Great Beyond after several months of illness.
On Wednesday, January 3, 2007 my telephone rang. The call was from Lynn Souther Godshall, daughter of Lt. Souther and Virginia Parks Souther.
I heard the tears in Lynn's voice as she said, "Ethelene, Mamma died yesterday" (Tuesday, January 2, 2007). I could hardly believe Lynn's report. I had a strong impression to telephone Virginia on Tuesday. When I told Lynn, she said, "But it would have been too late!"
Virginia's grandson Mark went to tell her a final goodbye before leaving for Cincinnati after being home for the holidays, and he could not get her to the door. Going inside, Mark Souther and his wife, Stacy Sue, found Virginia Souther as though she were peacefully asleep on her bed--no apparent struggle, just a "gentle passing on." Four and one-half months before, Virginia's beloved husband had "passed quietly" about 3:00 a. m. on August 18. He had been extremely ill and his death was expected. Virginia, however, had enjoyed this past Christmas and New Year's with her family. She was tired, of course, after a long period of care-giving for her beloved "Bill" (John Paul). But none in her family expected her death so soon after her husband's.
I thought about this gentle, genteel lady. She always had a smile and kind words for everyone she met. She and John Paul had sixty-five years of a very strong marriage before his death. I could imagine that, even though she was bravely "carrying on" following his demise, enjoying family and friends, she still longed to be "going home" to join John Paul in that "place prepared" for the blessed. She had told me how much she missed him and how lonely her life was without him.
The lines of William Cullen Bryant's poem, "Thanatopsis" ran through my mind as I thought of her sudden and unexpected death:
So live that when thy summons comes to joinLt. Colonel Souther left his mark as one of "The Greatest Generation," a brave and much-decorated participant in World War II. But on the home front, his beloved wife, Virginia Parks Souther, was making her own mark, as she continued to do through the sixty-five years of their marriage.
The innumerable caravan, which moves
To that mysterious realm where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
Thou go not like the quarry-slave at night,
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him and lies down to pleasant dreams.
I love the romantic story of how this young couple met. On June 23, 1938, John Paul Souther and some fellow forestry students from the University of Georgia were at a forestry camp near Lake Burton at Clayton, Georgia. They had a few hours free from camp duty, and went fishing at the lake. John Paul got his first glimpse of Virginia Parks who was with her uncle, aunt and cousin from Gainesville, looking for an available place on the lake to build a cabin. Even though Virginia and her cousin Elizabeth Parks had their boyfriends along on that trip to Lake Burton, that did not deter John Paul from determining to get in touch with "the vivacious young girl Virginia" whom he saw for the first time that day. Learning where she lived, the young forester penned a letter to her that night, addressing it just with her name and Gainesville, Georgia. In those days before zip codes and exact addresses were required, the letter reached Virginia in Gainesville at the home of her parents, Roy Webb Parks and Edith Garrett Parks because they were well-known Gainesville residents and Virginia was their only daughter. With that letter, their courtship began. Virginia transferred from Georgia State College for Women in Milledgeville to the University of Georgia. That way, the young couple could "court" without so much distance separating them.
She continued college, earning a bachelor of science in home economics in 1941 with honors. While she studied there, and during John Paul's senior year (he graduated with a degree in forestry in May, 1940), Virginia lived in Soule Hall, a part of the Home Economics Department. The house mother, Mrs. Myers, "took a liking" to John Paul Souther, and allowed him to come and eat the "goodies" the home economics students had cooked that day. Mrs. Myers also allowed him and Virginia to use the parlor for dates. He writes in his book, Between the Blood and the Bald, (2000, p. 124): "I cannot imagine anyone enjoying college more than I in his senior year."
Virginia Parks and John Paul Souther were married June 8, 1941 in Gainesville in what the groom termed "a quiet home wedding…on a hot Sunday afternoon." They spent their first months of marriage at Ft. Knox, KY, where he was stationed in the army.
After maneuvers in Louisiana and a period of intensive war preparation at Ft. Dix, New Jersey, Lt. Souther was shipped out to Europe on May 11, 1942 on the Queen Mary with his 1st Armored Division.
Virginia returned to her parents' home in Gainesville to wait and pray for thirty-seven months for the return of her husband. On December 7, 1942, their first child, William Parks Souther (Billy) was born in Gainesville. Because Virginia often showed their son pictures of his father, when Lt. Col. Souther returned from war on June 10, 1945, his little son ran to him with his arms outstretched, saying "Hello, Daddy!" That first meeting of father and son happened in a happy way because the child's mother had prepared him well for his first meeting with his dad.
Virginia Parks Souther was an exemplary military wife and civilian wife of a returning hero. In addition to being wife and mother (the couple's second child, Virginia Lynn, was born August 6, 1946), she was a career woman. She served in the Hall County Department of Family and Children's Services as a caseworker and as director. She was actively involved in community service through the Garden Club, Tallulah Falls School Study Club, Gainesville Federated Music Club, the Northeast Georgia History Center, and the Northeast Georgia Medical Auxiliary. She and her husband were active members of Gainesville First United Methodist Church.
Virginia Parks Souther supported her husband in his work and in his community service. If he had a project going, like getting the bust of Georgia Washington erected in Gainesville (December 14, 1999) in the bicentennial year of Washington's death, or having a permanent marker placed at the grave of Revolutionary War ancestor John Henry Stonecypher, Jr. at Estanollee, GA, or going with him on booksigning and speaking engagements to promote his two books, War Not Forgotten (1995) and Between the Blood and the Bald (2000), or placing an historical marker at the site of the Old Souther Mill, Choestoe, Virginia Parks Souther was ever the thoughtful, polite, sweet supporter and helpmeet of this man born in Choestoe, Union County, Georgia on May 4, 1915 to Jeptha and Mintie Dyer Souther. And although she was a "city" girl, born and bred in Gainesville (b. December 19, 1919), far from the mountains and valleys where John Paul grew up, she always enjoyed visiting in the mountains with him.
In her quiet and unassuming way, she endeared herself to family and friends.
At the Dyer-Souther Heritage Association July 21, 2007, we will pay tribute to these two staunch genealogical supporters, as well as several others, whose "going home" since our last reunion have left us with many precious memories but with feelings of loss and vacancy because we will miss their physical presence with us.
Virginia Parks Souther, in life, was one who lived exemplarily; and in death, one who "wrapped the drapery of (her) couch/About (her), and lay down to pleasant dreams."
c 2007 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published Jan. 11, 2007 in The Union Sentinel, Blairsville, GA. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.