Jim Stone passes away Thursday
Published 11:27 am Thursday, June 7, 2012
James W. “Jim” Stone, the founder of the Stone’s Home Centers chain of stores, passed away Thursday, June 7 at Memorial Manor Nursing Home in Bainbridge. He was 94.
Stone opened his first store in Bainbridge in April 1959, at the age of 41, with the help of his friend and financial partner, the late Charles H. Kirbo. The chain now has nine stores located across Southwest Georgia and North Florida.
Stone was known for the friendly phrase he used in many of the stores’ commercials over the years: “There’s a Stone’s Store Near You!” It was also the title of his 2008 biography. After retiring in 1990 at the age of 72, he continued to actively promote his chain of stores and served as chairman of the company’s board of directors.
As a boy growing up in Southwest Virginia, Stone worked at his family’s mill and later helped his family tend to dairy cows. He learned to fish, hunt and ride horses, activities he enjoyed for most of his life. As a boy, Stone rode a pony several miles each day to attend school and later showed horses as a teen. Around the age of 65, Stone bought a professional walking horse stallion, named “Hilltopper,” with which he won numerous ribbons showing.
Stone had relatives in Valdosta, Ga., where he attended a year at Emory Junior College in 1936-1937. After his parents could no longer afford college, Stone returned to Virginia and worked at a farm, at a mill and as a bill collector before training to become an Army pilot. He came to Bainbridge in 1943 to attend aviation cadet training during World War II. He later served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as a B-17 bomber pilot, attaining the rank of Second Lieutenant. He was shot down over German-controlled oil fields in Romania, and was taken as a prisoner of war. He was released in September 1944 and returned to America via Italy.
Stone married and was a flight instructor at Moody Field in Valdosta, Ga., for a short time before receiving a medical retirement from the Army in 1945 (due to a back injury he sustained while flying overseas.)
After getting a degree in agriculture from the University of Georgia, he returned to Bainbridge for good in 1949, at first working for the hardware store chain owned by his father-in-law, J.D. Bower Sr., who had been in business since the 1920s. Stone also worked for Western Auto and a Ford dealership in the 1950s, before starting his own business.
“I was born in Virginia, but I got here just as fast as I could,” Stone was known for saying about Bainbridge.
April 17, 2009 was declared “Jim Stone Day” in the City of Bainbridge, marking the 50th anniversary of the first Stone’s store.
Among other contributions to the community, the Stone family has been a major supporter of the work of the Decatur-Seminole Service Center, which they founded in 1970 with the help of a federal grant. The Stones had also helped organize the first special education program in Decatur County in the 1960s. The Service Center, now run under the Georgia Pines program in Thomasville, provides services and support to people who have developmental disabilities and offers training and services to increase their independence in the community.
Stone married Mary Tallulah Bower Stone, on Nov. 1, 1944 at the Bainbridge Air Base Chapel. Mrs. Stone passed away in October 2011 at the age of 92. They had two daughters, Laura and Joanna. Stone’s younger brother, Harold, passed away in 2002 after spending the latter part of his life in Bainbridge.
Stone’s civic involvement included past chairman of the United Way, past president of the Bainbridge Rotary Club, past president of the Bainbridge-Decatur County Chamber of Commerce, past president of two local mental health associations, past chairman of the Bainbridge College Foundation and past chairman of the Decatur/Seminole County Training Center for the Developmentally Disabled, a member of the Governor’s Southwest Georgia Regional Mental Health and Mental Retardation Advisory Council and director of the Southwest Georgia Health Systems Agency.
His friend Charles Kirbo introduced him to Jimmy Carter, who was at the time running for Governor of Georgia. Upon his election in 1971, Governor Carter appointed Stone to a commission which helped recommend candidates for judgeships around the state. In his book, Stone recalled Carter—who later became the 39th President of the United States—coming to Bainbridge to attend Kirbo’s funeral in 1996 and dropping by Stone’s store.
He was recognized by the Chamber as Bainbridge’s Man of the Year in 1987 and in 2007 he received the Chamber’s Community Service Award. He received the Hero of Freedom Award at Grace Christian Academy in 2003.
“Jim Stone has contributed immeasurably and unselfishly to the civic, business and community life of Bainbridge and Decatur County for almost half a century,” local attorney and Rotarian Harold Lambert once said of Stone. “Honesty, integrity and fair dealings have exemplified a very successful and fulfilling life.”
The late Raymond Miles, who passed away in 2010, was one of Stone’s business contemporaries, along with the late Max Langston. Miles renovated an old motel in West Bainbridge for use as the original service center for developmentally disabled children. In Stone’s biography, Miles praises Stone’s civic contributions.
“I think probably the training center was one of his greatest accomplishments,” Miles said. “He had a vision of what could happen and he worked to make it happen … he’s got plenty of determination … he built his business with hard work and looking after his customers.”
Some information in this article comes from “There’s a Stone’s Store Near You!” a 2008 biography of Stone by Lou Merritt.
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