Gone but not forgotten: Covington honors employee killed in line of duty 40 years ago

:Billy Moate holds a photo of his late father, William A. Moate, along with his daughters, Holly Thompson and Christina Peters. -Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith

:Billy Moate holds a photo of his late father, William A. Moate, along with his daughters, Holly Thompson and Christina Peters. -Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith

COVINGTON -- William A. Moate loved the city of Covington.

So it wasn't a surprise to anyone when, during an ice storm, he volunteered to go out in treacherous conditions and check power lines. Moate gave his life in service to the city that night, on Jan. 8, 1973, when he was hit and killed by a drunk driver. Today marks the 40th anniversary of his death at age 55.

"It was a catastrophic event for the city and for the whole community," said former City Manager Frank Turner during a recent ceremony honoring Moate's life. But now, at last, Moate's sacrifice is being remembered in a very public way.

The city has designated the portion of Newton Drive between Mill and Floyd streets "William A. Moate Memorial Drive." Signs have been erected at Mill Street and Newton Drive and at Floyd Street and Newton Drive, near where Moate was killed.

The honor was a request from Moate's son, Billy, who was 16 at the time of his father's death. Billy Moate said that the man responsible for killing his father received little punishment, and that the public memorial "brought closure to me."

Many of those closest to William A. Moate have died -- his wife Ruth in 1989 and his daughter Vera in 2002. His grandson Joshua, whom he never knew, died in 2007.

But there are grandchildren and great-grandchildren who can appreciate the honor, and of course his son, who used to go to work at City Hall with his dad.

Moate was a Newton native who quit school in the eighth grade to work in the field on his father's farm. He worked at Bibb Manufacturing Company in Porterdale from 1943 to 1946. He then went to work for the city of Covington's electric department, and went on to become supervisor over the meter readers.

"That man loved the city. That's probably the reason he volunteered that night, was his love for the city and the people of the city," his son said.

Friends remembered Moate as a Godly man dedicated to his church, his family and his city.

When Billy Moate was very young, he suffered stomach problems. Back then, the funeral home handled the ambulance service, and Sam Cowan told Billy he could remember his father praying in the back of the ambulance, "Oh God, if you let my son live, I will serve you in any way you want me to."

Moate held many positions at Almon Baptist Church, including deacon, Sunday School teacher and treasurer.

Marion Turner served as a deacon alongside Moate. "William had a servant's heart and he was willing to do anything he was asked to do," Turner said during last month's ceremony that included the unveiling of the sign in Moate's memory and many tales of fond remembrance from loved ones.

Turner recited the lyrics to Moate's favorite song, "How Big is God," which he first heard when visiting the Trail of Tears in Cherokee, N.C.

Frank Turner said Moate knew every meter in the city.

"William really looked after his city. It was amazing, his knowledge of the city," he said. "Most of them are gone that knew where every valve was, every meter was. Now we're having to put it on the computer and I still don't know if they know it as well."

Former Fire Chief Don Floyd recalled coming back home from the military to discover his electric bill had increased from $14 to $17 a month. Moate had an answer -- it was his electric clock that was driving up Floyd's bill.

"I can see him in my dreams with that hat on and bow tie," and gray uniform, Floyd said.

Mayor Ronnie Johnston said the city is grateful for Moate's service and added regrets that it's taken so long for the city to formally honor him.