By John D. Pierce

This is a tribute to my friend and high school classmate Tim Clark, whose life we will celebrate on Thursday afternoon (Feb. 20) at Ringgold (Ga.) United Methodist Church.

Like classes before us, the Ringgold High class of 1974 wanted to leave a gift to our alma mater. A traditional way of doing that was to host a talent show called “Spring Follies.”

Perhaps we were more motivated because of moving into a newly constructed school facility for our senior year. (That not-so-new building was rattled by a tornado in 2011.)

Along with fellow senior David Key, Tim and I cooked up a crazy idea: Let’s invite Jerry Clower to our Spring Follies.

For those too young to know or too old to remember, Clower was a former Mississippi fertilizer salesman turned popular country comic and a member of the Grand Ole Opry.

Not knowing any better, we three Ringgold boys tracked down his agent to see if Jerry could come. To our surprise, talent agent Tandy Rice (surely thinking we were responsible adults instead of naïve teens) said that due to a cancellation there was an opening on April 26, 1974 — the date of our Spring Follies — and that Jerry could be there for $1,500.

That was a lot of money in ’73-’74 when McDonald’s newly introduced Quarter Pounder cost 60 cents. The performance fee was more than I’d paid for my first car.

But, somehow, Tim, David and I convinced high school principal Richard Clark to sign the contract with our promise to have the massive sum of money in his hands before the show. Then we went to work — and it was fun.

We printed tickets to sell in advance — and designed a simple but adequate program to receive the light blue ink of a mimeograph. Thumbing through the Yellow Pages, we found every place in the Chattanooga area that sold McCulloch chain saws — a product Jerry mentioned in his humorous tales.

We visited those hardware and feed-and-seed stores, selling ads and offering a couple of tickets to see ol’ Jerry in person. The money was coming in.

David Carlock, who lived in the Boynton community as I did, worked for WDEF in Chattanooga. I asked for his help and he responded favorably.

At the Chattanooga airport in April 1974, Jerry Clower greets Tim Clark as I look on.

When Jerry landed at Chattanooga’s Lovell Field on April 26, 1974, Tim, David Key and I were there to welcome him. So was Mr. Carlock, with a mic in hand and a trailing cameraman.

Later I wondered why Jerry didn’t just make the short drive from Nashville, but the airport arrival of an Opry star was more dramatic.

With the arrival interview playing on Channel 12 and WDEF radio, the word was getting around about the show in Ringgold. Jerry also appeared on the afternoon radio show with host “Jolly Cholly.”

Tim and I were listening in when Jerry said in his distinct and loud Southern voice: “Woo! These boys done brought the clean entertainer to town.”

He urged everyone to come out to Ringgold that evening — and it seemed like they did.

I don’t recall how much money we raised. The senior gift, I believe, had something to do with stocking the new high school cafeteria. But all of that didn’t really matter.

What I remember most is the great satisfaction Tim, David and I, along with our many classmates, teachers and other friends throughout Ringgold, had that evening. And I can only imagine the relief Mr. Clark felt, knowing he’d not have to explain to the school board why RHS was $1,500 in the hole.

Soon after arriving at the airport, Jerry had mentioned to us that Ringgold had rung a bell in his mind but he couldn’t remember why. Then it hit him: he recalled reading in the newspaper about David Moss, Ringgold High’s finest athlete who’d gone to University of Tennessee to play basketball the year before.

Cancer had been found in David’s knee and his leg had been amputated recently. He was home, near the high school, recovering. I told Jerry that I’d taken a couple of tickets to David’s house a few days ago and that he would be at the show.

I’ll never forget that night in the Ringgold High gym, after students and other local talent provided some toe-tappin’ country music, and Jerry Clower in his bright yellow suit and white patent leather boots took the stage. He pointed out that David was the real star in that building — and dedicated the show to him.

Tragically, David’s cancer — like Tim’s decades later — became widespread and he died in December 1980. The high school gym is named in his memory. And, like Tim, he was beloved throughout the community.

Last year, when moving from Macon to Gainesville, Ga., I came across my high school yearbook from our senior year. I like to remind classmate and yearbook editor Nancy Poston that her recruitment of me to that staff was my introduction to journalism.

However, I might have spent more time that year selling chainsaw ads for a flimsy program.

Along with classmates Randy Black and Dennis Wallace, Tim Clark (right) and I enjoyed an evening at SunTrust Park in 2018.

In the back of that yearbook, my friend Tim had written about the many good times shared with our classmates — especially the night Jerry Clower came to Ringgold because we didn’t know any better than to invite him.

After signing his name, Tim had scribbled a P.S. in my yearbook, quoting something Jerry Clower had said to us: “Keep looking up!”

I repeated those words back to him last week, through a video I sent to another classmate and friend, Letha White Edmonds, who shared it with Tim in his final days.

We love and miss you, Tim. But we will do our best to keep looking up. We know you’d want it that way.

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