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Remembering LeRoy Powell by Bill Vanderford

LeRoy Powell With A Big Trout From the Soque River
Photo by Bill Vanderford

The last time I saw LeRoy was about a month before he died. We had been invited to the “LeRoy Powell Low-Country Crawfish Boil” that was held on the beautiful Soque River in the confines of “Brigadoon.” As usual, Rebekah Stewart had brought together a cross-section of humanity that ran from foreign dignitaries to Richard Jewel. LeRoy was in a wheelchair most of that day but he hadn’t lost one speck of the quick wit that we all enjoyed and often feared over the years.

Bill Hartman was doing sports for Channel 5 in the old days and had asked me to take him out on Lake Lanier to film a segment on how I consistently caught so many fish. His cameraman that day was a scrawny-looking guy that looked too small to carry the huge TV camera and equipment. I learned that his name was LeRoy Powell and not only was he an artist with video equipment, but he had a quick wit and loved to catch fish. During the filming that day, Hartman and I were catching so many fish that LeRoy finally made some funny quip about having plenty of film, then grabbed one of my rods and joined the fray. From that point on, we were always fishing buddies! Though I can’t remember all the times our paths crossed, a few stand out in my memory, especially a week that LeRoy, Jimmy Jacobs and I spent together camping our way through South Florida and the Keys at KOA’s. Even before we left Atlanta, LeRoy laid down some laws, which started with the driving. Because of my reputation for motoring fast and the fact that I had driven race cars in Europe for ten years, LeRoy insisted that he do all of the driving. Jimmy and I both knew that it would be a much longer trip at LeRoy’s pace, but rather than incur the immediate wrath of his sharp wit, we heartily agreed.

Even though at one point during the fishing portion of our trip, I fell over a guard rail onto the Overseas Highway and received deep cuts that still scar my body today, it was an unforgettable experience. We also played golf at a KOA at Lake Okeechobee, ate conch fritters at Alabama Jacks, had drinks and watched a sunset where Bogie sat at the Caribbean Bar in Key Largo, ate grouper sandwiches at Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen, joined in with the other revelers during the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Park in Key West, and put down a few of those long-necked Buds that LeRoy loved while watching the night people drift through Captain Tony’s Bar. Our days in the Keys were filled with sunshine, crystal clear waters and wading the shallow flats with fly and spinning rod in search of the piscatorial pleasures. It was a great trip in a gorgeous place, but as I reflect, it seems that I was always running into LeRoy in picturesque locations like Lanier, Brigadoon and the Florida Keys.

Though we were all saddened when LeRoy Powell passed away, it was also fitting that we had a proper wake for him at Manuel’s Tavern. Jimmy Jacobs, LeRoy and I had met there and tipped a few after our friend Lewis Grizzard had died, so we knew it had to be that way for LeRoy. He had many friends, so the crowd at Manuel’s was large. Instead of tears, the evening was filled with laughter as so many he had touched told wonderful stories about the fun things he had done and said during his 55 years on Earth.
 Though he received hundreds of awards and honors for his on and off screen creations, LeRoy Powell’s real legacy is friendship, fun and laughter. Even before his ashes disappeared in the sluggish waters of one of his favorite ponds in Alabama or flowed quickly away in the crystal clear rush of the Soque River, LeRoy already had everyone laughing inside the Pearly Gates!

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