Congressman Edgar Lanier Jenkins who served as the United States Representative from the Ninth US Congressional District, Georgia, passed away Sunday, January 1, 2012, three days shy of his seventy-ninth birthday. He was born in Young Harris, Georgia on January 4, 1933, the second son of six children born to Charles Swinfield Jenkins and Evia Mae Souther Jenkins. He served in the United States House of Representatives for sixteen years, from 1976 through 1992 when he retired.
He and I were, as we say in genealogical terms, double-first cousins twice (or thrice) removed. We both descend from stalwart early settlers to Union County, Georgia (where Ed and I both grew up). As John Donne so aptly stated in one of his poems, Ed’s death “diminished me.” I was deeply saddened that he could not recover from the cancer he so bravely fought and that took his life three days before he reached his seventy-ninth birthday.
I will miss his presence at our annual Dyer-Souther Reunions in July. I will miss sending him “The Chronicle,” the newsletter I write and send out to about 300 descendants of Ed and my common ancestors, John and Mary Combs Souther and Bluford Elisha and Elizabeth Clark Dyer. Edgar’s connection back to them is through his mother, Evia Souther Jenkins, the granddaughter of William Albert and Elizabeth “Hon” Dyer Souther. This couple’s first-born son, Frank Loransey Souther (1881-1937) who married Nancy Elizabeth Johnson (1886-1967) was Edgar’s grandfather, his mother Evia’s parents. Edgar’s great, great grandparents were John Combs Hayes Souther (1827-1891) and Nancy Collins Souther (1829-1888)—and through the Collins line Edgar and I pick up still another relationship, for we share the same Collins ancestors as well. But all these ancestral connections get to be a bit confusing, especially if you don’t deal with them on a regular basis. Suffice it to say that the family connections are back there, strong and with definite influence upon both of us.
Edgar Lanier Jenkins perhaps got his penchant for public service in an “honest” way, as we say in the mountains. His grandfather, Frank Loransey Souther (1881-1937) was what we call in Appalachia a “revenooer.” That is, he worked for the U. S. Government to find, break up, and arrest perpetrators of the law who made “moonshine liquor” in the coves and hollows of this mountain region. When Edgar was a slip of a boy only four years old, his grandfather Ransey (as we called him) was killed in the line of duty. Maybe that Grandfather’s death made such an impression on Edgar that he resolved at an early age to do what he could in future to treat people well and to make a difference with his own life.
Ed graduated from Union County High School and then attended and graduated from Young Harris College in 1951. His faithfulness to his junior college Alma Mater led him in later years to set up a scholarship fund there which has assisted many with tuition. His first job out of Young Harris was with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (was this in remembrance of his late grandfather, RanseySouther?). He then joined the U. S. Coast Guard and served ably from 1952 through 1955. Following his honorable discharge, he entered the University of Georgia to receive his bachelor’s degree and then his law degree in 1959.
From 1959 through 1962 he served on the staff of U. S. Congressman Phillip M. Landrum of the Ninth Congressional District. That experience helped the young Jenkins get a feel for serving in our U. S. capitol and set the stage for his later direction in life. From 1962 through 1964, Edgar Jenkins was Assistant District Attorney for Georgia’s Northern District, and he practiced law in Pickens County, Georgia, where he and his wife, Bennie Jo Thomasson Jenkins made their home at Jasper. Their two daughters, Janice Kristin and Amy Lynn came along in the 1960’s to give them much joy and grace their home. Later he would rejoice in two grandsons, Sam and Drew Dotson, sons of his daughter, Amy Jenkins Dotson.
Ed Jenkins was elected as the Ninth District U. S. Congressman in 1976, the same year another Georgian, Jimmy Carter, was elected President of the United States. Since Ed had the experience of being on the staff of Congressman Landrum, he was not to be considered a rookie in Washington politics. His sixteen year tenure (he did not run for reelection in 1992) saw many achievements by this legislator from Georgia who served a total of eight terms. It is interesting that “The Almanac of American Politics” in 1990 described Jenkins as “one of the smartest operators on Capitol Hill.”
This article could not possibly enumerate all the bills he sponsored or the legislative committees on which he served. Some of his major roles in Congress were serving on the House Ways and Means Committee, on the very volatile Joint Committee on the Iran-Contra which had the task of investigating and dealing with trading weapons to Iran. Ed Jenkins’ main value to the area he served was his strong stands for the textile industries within the Ninth District, holding that these jobs should not be parceled out to other countries. This had to do not only with the carpet industry of Dalton, but all the once-profitable sewing shops that made clothing throughout the mountain region. What do we see now on labels? “Made in-----” with the name of another country named.
Jenkins likewise stood up for conservation in supporting our National Forest bills, and for the farmer and small business owner. He authored bills for soil and water conservation and wilderness areas. Having come from salt-of-the-earth ancestors, he recognized the value of hard work and of holding on to ideals of integrity and fairness. He also worked hard to bring about tax revisions to give more equity in the tax structure. He believed in education and in his retirement served on the Board of Regents of the University of Georgia and as a trustee (emeritus) of Young Harris College. He and his family demonstrated as well their Christian influence and were active in First Baptist Church, Jasper, where his memorial service was held on January 7, 2011. His body was returned to Union County where he was interred at the Antioch Baptist Church Cemetery.
To honor this long-time member of Congress, a bill passed on December 11, 1991 to name an area of the Chattahoochee National Forest the “Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area.” This 23,166 acre spread of north Georgia forest is a tribute to an humble man who studied hard, set goals and reached them, and lived nobly. In researching for this article, I accessed a beautiful photograph taken by Alan Cressler (photostream) of the Lovinggood Creek Falls in Fannin County, Georgia. This is one of the beautiful, sparkling falls in the Ed Jenkins National Recreation Area that lies generally within the Blood Mountain Wilderness area and the Blue Ridge Wildlife Management area. As I saw the image of the tumbling water, I thought of how Ed Jenkins’ influence is still flowing on, still making a difference now and into the future. He made “footsteps in the sands of time” and in our hearts.
My condolences go out to his beloved wife, Jo, children Janice Anderson and Amy Dotson, grandsons Sam and Drew Dotson, brothers Charles and Kenneth Jenkins, sisters Ella Battle, Marilyn Thomasson and Patti Chambers. I thought of nephew Rick Jenkins (Charles’s son) and his wife, Cindy Epperson Jenkins (of Epworth, Ga—one of “my” children whom I taught) serving as missionaries in Panama who could not attend the memorial service because of the distance. I thought of all of us many cousins—twice, thrice removed—who people this planet. We will miss you, Ed, but we salute you for the life you lived.
Edgar Lanier Jenkins, our ancestors would be proud of how you carried on the tradition of serving others. You “preached your funeral while you lived,” as our great grandparents liked to say as they sought to teach us how to live. I thought of Ed’s father, Charlie Jenkins, the barber of
Blairsville for so many years, talking politics and expressing his wisdom to customers on the country’s situation as Edgar probably played quietly in the barber shop. I thought of Edgar’s grandfather, Ransey Souther, and his unselfish giving in the line of duty as a federal agent. So many influences combined to make Ed what he was. I thought of our wonderful mutual teacher, Mrs. Dora Hunter Alison Spiva, at Union County High School—and so many more people, kin and friends, who wielded their influence. Now we will look back on Edgar Jenkins’s life and say,
with poet William Winter:
“On wings of deeds the soul must mount!
When we are summoned from afar,
Ourselves, and not our words will count—
Not what we said, but what we are!”
cFebruary 2, 2012 by Ethelene Dyer Jones; published online by permission of author at GaGenWebProject All rights reserved.