Finding Your Folks: Gunby and Nolen - we've lost two good ones

Judy Fowler Kilgore's picture

I'm going to move off the topic of the Herndons this week to bring you some very sad news and spread a few flowers where they so deservedly belong.

The genealogy and history community lost two of its brightest stars this week with the passing of Norma Gunby on Saturday, April 14, and Willis (Bill) Nolen on Monday, April 16. Norma was a shining star in the genealogy community and Bill's bright rays shone down on the tight-knit community of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. A Luthersville resident formerly from East Point, Bill had been a Confederate history buff since his childhood.

I did not know Norma as well as I knew Bill but was one of her biggest admirers. I came across her name in just about every history or genealogy book I read on Coweta County when I first started researching in this area and she graced me with an e-mail and a phone call when I first started doing the column. I felt as if I had received a blessing from the Pope.

Later, I was privileged to meet her in person at a Coweta County Genealogy Society (CCGS) event in Grantville and couldn't help but feel I was in the presence of greatness. My most recent contact with Norma was a few months ago when she called the office inquiring about the possibility of turning my columns into a book since they held, in her words, "a significant amount of genealogy material." She will never know (well ... perhaps she does now ...) how honored I was that she liked my work.

According to Norma's obituary in the Newnan Times-Herald this week, she was 84, lived in Sharpsburg and had been a Coweta resident since 1952. She was born 18 Sept. 1922 in Birmingham, Ala., the daughter of the late Mavis and Pete Williams. She married Robert T. Gunby, who survives her, on 14 Feb. 1941 and was a member of Turin Baptist Church.

Norma was one of the founders of the CCGS and had been a member for 20 years. She was formerly the author of a genealogy column for the Newnan Times-Herald called "Treetops to Roots." I also have heard mention of a column she did, perhaps for the CCGS newsletter, called "Norma's Coweta Chatter." Or maybe it was her own newsletter. In any case, I have heard it mentioned many times.

Norma also was involved in many other community activities, including the 4-H Club of Coweta County and East Coweta High School, and had received at one time the award for "Coweta County Homemaker of the Year."

Norma is survived by her husband, three sons, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Funeral services were Tuesday, April 17, and she was interred at Forest Lawn Cemetery on Roscoe Road in Newnan. Arrangements were handled by Higgins Hillcrest Chapel. The genealogy community will feel Norma's loss for years to come.

Willis Jackson Nolen Jr., 68, was the son of Willis Jackson Nolen and Lyda Hardaway of East Point. Bill and I had only recently rekindled an old friendship which goes back to birth ... or possibly before as we jokingly said, since our parents were friends and my parents boarded with his grandmother Hardaway shortly after they were married. We also entertained the thought that perhaps, since we were both in the "cradle roll" class at East Point First Methodist Church, that was where our friendship began.

Whatever the case, Bill and I attended kindergarten, elementary school, high school and college together and, although we ran in different circles, were friends throughout those years. I think we may have even dated a time or two in our youth. I didn't realize it until recently, but Bill had the biggest and most generous heart of anyone I have ever known.

We had lost touch over the years, as old classmates and friends tend to do, but, having discovered that he lived nearby in Luthersville and having a question about researching a Civil War ancestor of mine a few years ago, I decided to give him a call. I knew he would have the answer. And so, the friendship was rekindled and Bill and I had long heart-to-hearts, talked about old friends (whatever happened to ... ?)

He told me about his house, a Civil War era structure constructed by his ancestors as a "temporary" home until after the war. When the war's outcome was different than was expected, the home stayed as it was and Bill proudly showed off its meager 1800s amenities, including a stairway up from the kitchen into the slave quarters.

He told me of a skit he wanted to do about Civil War soldiers from the viewpoint of an old soldier sitting in the cemetery remembering his buddies who were buried there. As he explained it and gave part of the narrative, I found myself getting goose bumps ... it was that good. I couldn't wait for him to finish it and perform it for my grandsons (that was the "testing" plan). He then would offer it to schools in the area. It was a great idea but came too late.

According to his obituary in the Newnan Times-Herald, Bill was among the oldest members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. He initiated and commanded The Lewis Armistead Camp 1796. He was a member of Company B 41st Ga. Inf., Company B 8th Ga. Inf., the 16th Ga. Inf. and Company Q 51st PA. Inf.

Bill was preceded in death by his parents and is survived by two daughters and three grandchildren. Funeral services will be today (Friday) at 2 p.m. at the Luthersville United Methodist Church with interment in the Luthersville City Cemetery. McKoon Funeral Home, Newnan, is in charge of arrangements.

My sincere condolences to members of the Gunby and the Nolen family. I'm sure they will all be in our prayers.

Next week: More about the Herndon family.

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