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Darrell Huckaby - 09/30/09

Have you ever left a funeral wishing you could turn back time and get to know the person you had just heard eulogized a little better - or a lot better. I have experienced that feeling a number of times in my life, most recently - and most notably - this past Sunday.

I attended the funeral of Gordon Norton - primarily because he was Anthony Norton's daddy. Anthony and his business partner, Ronnie Brown, own Conyers Pharmacy and I like trading there so much that I look forward to getting sick just so I'll have an excuse to go by and visit. And I would say that even if they didn't sell my books and even if they hadn't kept my oldest daughter employed for the past five or six years.

I would see Mr. Norton in the store from time to time as he came in to pick up something or drop something off. He always had a big smile on his face and always spoke and, if he had time, would stop and pass the time of day. I knew he was a friendly sort and enjoyed talking to him - although I often wondered how such a nice man could have raised his son to be such an avid Georgia Tech fan - but other than the fact that he was Anthony's daddy and made deliveries for the store, Mr. Norton's background was a mystery to me.

But I learned a lot about him at his funeral, and the more I learned the more I wished that I had known Mr. Norton better. And the more I learned about him, the more I found myself wishing that I could emulate him in my daily life.

I learned, for instance, that Gordon Norton was among the last of the true Southern gentlemen. I learned that he always held the car door open for Morelli, his wife of 59 years, even when his declining health made doing so a challenge. And I learned that he always bought his wife and his children flowers to wear to church on Easter and other special occasions.

I used to hold the door open for my lovely wife, Lisa, but somewhere along the way I just stopped doing that. And I used to buy flowers for my family to wear to church. I stopped doing that, too. Gordon Norton never did - and that speaks volumes for the kind of person he was.

I learned that before he was a drug store delivery man that Gordon was the long-time manager and eventual owner of Walker-Owens Furniture Company, a long-time Conyers institution. There are generations of Rockdale County people who furnished their homes from Walker-Owens.

I also learned that for more than half a century he was a minister of music, and served six different churches, including Porterdale Baptist. I found myself really wishing I had known that. I would have liked to have talked to him about his time in Porterdale and found out if served that church when Preacher Lance was there. I used to live next door to Preacher Lance and thought the world of him. I also found out that Gordon was raised in Milstead and two old lintheads can always find something to talk about.

I began to understand, during the course of the funeral service why I like Anthony so much - that whole Georgia Tech thing notwithstanding. I realized that he is the product of his environment and that he is such a good person because he was raised right. His daddy made sure he was in church every Sunday and wasn't afraid to hug his son and pray with him.

Those things will take a fellow a long way in life.

And I was shocked to learn that the pretty lady named Natalie Roseberry, whom I have run into around Conyers forever, is Anthony's sister. I never knew that and I was amazed that I didn't.

I am sure that I would have liked the way Gordon Norton led worship, because several people commented on the fact that he loved to sing the old hymns - not just for the melody but also for the message - and that he always insisted on singing every verse of every hymn. I'm the same way.

I also learned that Gordon Norton had an amazing singing voice, and I didn't learn this through hearsay, understand. The service was concluded with a taped rendition of Mr. Norton singing "Amazing Grace." I could tell from listening to the emotion in his voice as he sang the precious words of that famous old hymn that he left this world last week with the full assurance of his destination.

It is little wonder that traffic was backed up for more than a mile on Ga. 20 Sunday afternoon with people trying to get to Zion Church, and it is no wonder at all that every pew in that church's sanctuary was filled.

I went to the funeral to pay my respects to Anthony and his family, but I left a better person, having been inspired to try harder to be the kind of man that Gordon Norton was. Not many of us can influence people even in death, but it is obvious to me that Gordon Norton was not just any person.

I really wish I had known him better.

Darrell Huckaby