Truth be told … Tyson roasted

Published 7:43 pm Friday, March 27, 2009

In opening the Pilot Club’s roast of Charles Tyson Thursday night, Cathy Cox said, “This is not a night about tribute. This is a night about abuse.”

And as the night progressed, Thursday night was about telling Tyson stories that, if true, were surely not tributes.

There were stories about his fishing, his hunting, his golfing and his driving. None flattering, but they did bring lots of laughter throughout the evening, which was held at the Firehouse’s Jimmy Harrell Gallery.

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There were stories about how the law around Bainbridge was known as “Charles’ Law”—meaning it was his way or no way.

Cox, who practiced law in Bainbridge prior to serving in the state legislature and eventually becoming Georgia’s Secretary of State, recounted how a lawsuit she filed against the City of Bainbridge led to her friendship with Tyson.

“The only way to get through to Charles was to just abuse him,” said Cox, who served as the night’s master of ceremonies.

She said Tyson and the late Bill Reynolds, the mayor during Tyson’s tenure as city manager, had set up a good-cop, bad-cop routine—when a tough decision was necessary, Reynolds, taking the good cop’s sympathetic role, would defer to Tyson, who had no problem following the bad cop’s aggressive role.

“There is only one thing that is really nice about Charles—it’s Polly,” Cox said about Tyson’s wife of 54 years. “In fact, it is the only nice thing about Charles.”

Gene and Clair Dunlap recounted story after story of how Tyson exaggerates the size and number of fish he has caught, the talent of his golf game and the results of his hunting trips.

But what was a central humorous theme throughout most of the evening was Tyson’s passion for speed and his penchant for driving dangerously. Some of his numerous accidents were also recounted.

For example, Clair Dunlop and Vera Custer had detailed and vivid stories of him driving 90 mph on Spring Creek Road or crossing several lanes of traffic on Atlanta’s Interstate 285 to avoid missing an exit.

“When we drove, I mean landed, in the DeHildren parking lot, the G-force had pressed me so deeply into the car seat that it took time to peel me off the seat,” Clair Dunlap said. “We barely closed the car doors when Charles shot out of the parking lot again. When Gene and I got into our car, I literally kissed the dashboard and vowed I would never ride with Charles Tyson again—and I haven’t!”

Bainbridge Leisure Services Department Al Kelley recounted tales of when male city employees went on fishing trips to Florida together and when Tyson first came to Bainbridge and was ticketed by one of his own police officers.

But Kelley ended his tales of Tyson with a personal note that “He was not only a good city manager, he was a good friend … He was not only good for the city, he was good for me.”

The mystery roaster was introduced as Dr. Don Robinson, Tyson’s next-door neighbor for 21 years. As Robinson was coming up to the podium, Tyson muttered, “Not good. Not good.”

And it wasn’t.

Robinson pulled out a buried glove Tyson’s dog would take and bury; there was also a water-logged camera of when Tyson and Robinson were going on a boat ride, but Tyson had forgotten to put the plug in the boat and it sank; and the earplugs Robinson’s wife, Mary, put in when Tyson would crank up a lawnmower, chainsaw or other loud equipment on Saturday mornings.

If it takes a village to raise a child, Robinson said, “It takes a village of Bainbridge to put up with him (Tyson).”

When it was Tyson’s turn, despite having taken copious notes for his rebuttal, he basically said his roasters’ tales were all tall tales.

Tyson, who served as a city manager for a total of 40 years in four cities, thanked his wife, his two children, Todd Tyson and LeeAnn Colon, and his two grandchildren, Taylor, 11, and Mayson, 9.

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