By Ed Grisamore – email@example.com
COCHRAN — Ben Newby died five days before Thanksgiving last year. He was 71 years old, lived life to the fullest and was not ready to leave this Earth.
But his big heart finally gave out, and his death left a hole in the hearts of everyone who knew him.
By all accounts, Ben was a happy man. He married his high school sweetheart, Anne Mullis, and had a wonderful family to surround him with love.
He worked for 43 years at Norfolk Southern. He was a railroad man, just like his daddy, and a section of track near Columbus is named in his honor.
Ben believed in the power of positive thinking. He had a great sense of humor and a passion for telling stories.
The one he told most often — hands down, no pun intended — was about losing his 1957 Cochran High School senior class ring.
During the final three months of his life, he would recount the story at least three … eight … a dozen times a day.
And everyone learned to listen, even though they had heard it so many times they could recite it themselves. It took on a life of its own.
The ring stayed in hiding for 42 years, then returned from the soil on a hot August day like today.
The amazing story was shared as part of the eulogy at the First Baptist Church of Cochran. Anne even wore the ring to the funeral, and she held it up and waved for everyone to see.
It was an ordinary ring with extraordinary meaning, a testament to sacrifice and perseverance.
Ben grew up the youngest of five children. His father died when he was young. His mother, Nomie Bell Newby, worked hard and made sacrifices to earn the $60 to help him buy a class ring in 1957, the same year he married Anne. (They graduated from high school together. There were 51 seniors in their graduating class.)
On a fall day in 1968, Ben was fox hunting with his friend Bo Wimberly. They were hunting on property Bo owned on Longstreet Road, at the northwest end of Bleckley County.
Ben was chasing after the hound dogs, traveling down a fence line between two fields. When he stopped to catch his breath, he noticed his ring had slipped off his finger. He searched for it for hours, then days. He was devastated.
Years later, Bo died in a farm accident. His property was put up for sale, and Ben purchased the cotton field and adjoining woods.
Over the years, he would tell the tale of the lost ring to his children — Ben Jr., Melanie Rogers and Martha Barrs — who passed it down to the seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“He never gave up trying to find it,” said his daughter Melanie. “Every time something was said about the land, he would bring it up. It seemed to connect him to the land.”
Martha, the youngest daughter, remembered her father’s eyes would comb the earth as he planted his row crops of peanuts and soy beans.
“I think that’s why the rows were a little crooked,” she said, laughing. “He was always looking down at the ground for that ring.”
It took the eyes of a child to finally uncover it, after 42 years of crisp nights, blistering afternoons, high winds, heavy rains and thousands of footprints across the flat dirt east of Cary.
On Aug. 21, 2010, family members gathered to celebrate the 31st birthday of Melanie’s son Benjamin. Among the children at the party was Benjamin’s 5-year-old niece Jaunia Vae Patillo of Eastman.
While getting into a car, she noticed the ring, covered slightly in dirt with a crumpled band. It was resting along the top of some tilled ground that had been dug for construction of a power line.
Ben was shocked, stunned, elated and overwhelmed. If his arms and legs would have cooperated, he might have even done cartwheels across the field.
“What were the odds a man would lose his class ring on another man’s property, come to own that property and find the ring 42 years later?” asked Melanie.
Ben rewarded Jaunia Vae with a $10 bill, and Anne took it to be polished and cleaned at Smith Jewelers on Third Avenue in Eastman. When he got it back, it was almost like new. He wore it every day. It rarely left his finger. Anne said rediscovering the ring was the “last true moment of joy and happiness” she and her husband had together before he died.
Read more: http://www.macon.com/2011/08/10/1660466/memories-of-a-man-and-his-lost.html#ixzz1V6lI1Vda