Rotary Club gets a history lesson from Attapulgus native

Published 6:16 pm Friday, March 17, 2017

Dr. Charles Hatcher, a native of Attapulgus, and internationally known cardiologist and professor at Emory University, Atlanta, spoke to Rotary on Tuesday. He shared background and personal memories of his friendship with the late Robert W. Woodruff, owner of the Coca-Cola Company.

He told of how Woodruff, an avid outdoorsman, purchased land in Baker County in 1929-30 for $6 per acre. He wanted to develop a quail hunting plantation where he and his friends could hunt. This is the land that later became the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Center in Ichauway.

According to Dr. Hatcher, Woodruff was a man with very definite, organized ways about developing friendships. It happened in stages and if he liked you it started with receipt of a Christmas card on year one. On year two you received a single rose on your birthday. Following years, if you were acceptable you received invitations to lunch, and if you were doing very well, “You ‘ve made it,” and would be invited to Ichauway. One humorous story told of a friend who upon arriving there was asked, “How long did it take you to get down here?” to which the friend answered, “Thirty-two years, Sir.”

Email newsletter signup

Woodruff took care of his land and his workers. He prepared homes for them—nothing fancy, but he wanted it all to be confortable. He was also concerned for the health and welfare of his workers. He did a health assessment and discovered 80 percent of his workforce had malaria, hookworm, or both. He set out to eradicate those diseases in Baker County.

He paid hospital and medical bills for anyone from Ichauway, and even established paid scholarships for any workers’ children who wished to attend college.

He was very much a creature of habit, according to Hatcher. Also very generous, but never wanted any credit for his charitable acts. He liked to remain anonymous.

The Newton High School band would come serenade him on Christmas with carols and when he asked why that was he was informed, “You bought the instruments for the band.”

He had two mottos he lived by. “The future belongs to the discontented,” and “In order for a project to succeed, you cannot be concerned about who gets the credit.”

In 1967 Emory University wanted to name a building for him. He declined.

Then, in 1982, the board of trustees wanted to name the Health Sciences building after him. A group of trustees made an appointment with his daughter to come make a presentation to him. By that time he was bedridden, but he got up, dressed and welcomed them from his wheelchair. He thought it was a wonderful idea and when told he had declined the offer in the 60’s, he replied he couldn’t imagine why.

When he was 94 and very frail he decided enough was enough. He refused to eat, drink or take medication, saying he had been around long enough. He was flown to Emory Hospital where it was discovered he was dehydrated. Everyone there descended on him, wanting to treat him with different methods. But Dr. Hatcher said, “No, I don’t think that is the way to go. He informed the daughter that he could probably keep him alive for a week or 10 days regardless. He ordered that he be hydrated and given morphine for pain. “He floated out very peacefully in one week,” said Hatcher, who added that would be his preference as well.

Upon his death it was discovered that Ichuaway was valued at $50 million, but was a non-performing asset.  The managers knew what Mr. Woodruff wanted done.

The hunting dried up and now it is an experimental natural science research center, with 20 PhD’s doing studies on birds, fish etc. The center conducts tours for the public.

Joseph W. Jones Ecological Center in Ichauway will hold its annual open house on Saturday, March 25, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.