Friends recall Wingate

Published 5:17 pm Friday, December 9, 2011

The many friends of Jack Wingate shared their memories of the local legend, who passed away Thursday at the age of 82.

Numerous people shared their memories and condolences on an online guestbook managed by Ivey Funeral Home, while others talked about “The Sage of Seminole” on Facebook., the official website of B.A.S.S. — the world’s premier pro fishing circuit — posted an article talking about Wingate’s impact on the fishing world.

His friends in Decatur County and Southwest Georgia shared many memories of Wingate, who was known not only for his fishing expertise but for his love and knowledge of the area.

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“He had a passion for this region, its history, the importance of Lake Seminole as a resource,” said Bainbridge Mayor Edward Reynolds. “It was obvious how much he loved fishing and talked about how it benefitted the community and its culture. He loved the people in this area and it showed in everything he did.”

Former Mayor Mark Harrell, now with Bank of the Ozarks, remembered when he and Reynolds — who were in the same school class — tagged along with their older brothers one summer when they were going to Wingate’s youth fishing camp.

“I think we were only about 6 at the time, and the camp was supposed to be for boys who were a little older,” Harrell said. “It always stuck with me that he let us stay and attend the camp after he saw how disappointed we were. Of course, we had a good time and learned a lot about fishing.”

Pam Martin-Wells, perhaps the most accomplished pro fisherwoman ever, credits Wingate as one of her biggest supporters and mentors early on in her career. She met him as a young girl, when she and others went to his fishing lodge to fish. One year, she watched the goings-on of a ladies’ fishing tournament that was being held out of the lodge.

“After that, Jack kind of took me under his wings and taught me the ins and outs and the dos and don’ts of fishing,” Martin-Wells said. “He was knowledgable about so many things … Jack was just Jack. He was an awesome individual and he will be truly missed.”

There are probably many people in southwest Georgia and southeast Alabama who are familiar with Wingate through his appearances on morning radio shows, which he telephoned in from the porch of his lodge for many years.

Coley Voyles, who co-owns the WMGR 930 AM radio station, talked with Wingate many mornings.

The show’s topics included everything from the weather and water temperature on the lake, what Wingate was eating for breakfast that morning and a wide range of fishing and hunting topics.

“He always had a good story to tell,” Voyles said. “Being the historian he was, he would often talk about the meanings of holidays coming up or a book he was reading … he could talk to anyone at any level. He was just an old country boy, but he read enough to stay on top of what was going on with government or politics.”

“He always signed off in a comical way, whether he was talking about his gall stones or the weather was cold and his long johns were too short,” Voyles recalled. “It was always something different with Jack. On the serious side, he was always talking about people, whether it was kids who had gone to his fishing camp who were now grown up, or remembering some little old lady’s birthday on the radio. He was a people person, he was just genuine.”

Another of Wingate’s buddies was Gene Maddox, a retired veterinarian from Cairo, Ga., who has represented Decatur County and part of Grady County in the Georgia House of Representatives since 2004. Maddox said he first met Wingate approximately 35 years ago, when he took his son Pat to Wingate’s fishing camp.

“Of course, over the years I had gone over and ate supper at the lodge and when I first ran for office, my campaign held several fundraising dinners there; we had a sort of headquarters along the Flint River and Jack would always come over and eat with us,” Maddox said. “For some time after I was elected, me and some others would go by every so often and take Jack some breakfast biscuits and sit with him in the rocking chairs while he did his radio shows.”

Maddox said that Wingate talked to four different radio stations each morning — a measure of how popular he was with area outdoorsmen. Maddox remembers how much Wingate liked talking about history, the Indian relics he collected and his log home that he had built with timber he took out of the Flint River many years ago.

Maddox and State Sen. John Bulloch of Thomas County helped arrange for the Georgia Department of Transportation to designate Georgia State Route 97 South in Wingate’s honor back in 2006.

“It was a fitting honor, he has helped this region so much through his involvement with bringing fishermen to Lake Seminole,” Maddox said.

“I’m going to miss him. He was a great person who never met a stranger, he enjoyed just sitting and talking with you for a while. I have an immense amount of respect for him; he was a fine individual.”

Former Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox, who is now the president of Young Harris College in North Georgia, said she knew Wingate to be “a gentle giant who was a great friend.”

“He had a giant heart for people, especially those who struggled,” Cox said. “He was very social and outgoing, but also just the salt of the Earth.”

Cox said one of her fondest memories of Wingate came after she was elected to represent Decatur County in the Georgia House of Representatives in 1992. According to Cox, Wingate used to hold an appreciation supper for all the area law enforcement and elected officials at his lodge.

“It had always been a men-only affair, as all of the elected officials were men,” Cox said. “He was faced with the dillema of whether or not to invite me to the event that had always been ‘just the guys.’ But to his credit, he did invite me that year and in the following years, and always made me feel welcome.”

Cox also remembers speaking to a group of science teachers who were traveling down the Flint River for continuing education several years ago. Cox, who has always kept her close family ties to Bainbridge even as her career took her to Atlanta and around the state, took the time to go speak to the teachers. Afterwards, she sat on the porch of Wingate’s Lodge with “The Sage of Seminole” and discussed the ongoing ‘Water Wars’ between Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

“There were few subjects he was not well-versed in,” Cox recalled. “In addition to all the things he knew, he was also a legendary storyteller–people all around the world knew of Jack; the citizens of Southwest Georgia and many people around the world have been touched by the kind, generous man that he was.”