Most of those who had come to call Jack Hays Morgan Sr. a friend met him through business, politics, church or through the many acts of kindness he humbly performed throughout his life.
Morgan, 89, passed away peacefully in his home, surrounded by family members, March 3.
"My dad made a lasting imprint on this county and has friends to this day all over the state from his political and business careers," said his eldest son Jack Morgan Jr.
Born in 1919 in Newton County, Morgan graduated high school in 1936. He worked several odd jobs, as young men still often do, from picking peaches for 9 cents an hour or working at the snack counter at the Hub Bus Station to delivering bread for a bakery and sometimes sleeping on the floor there. After landing a job as a press operator at Bibb Manufacturing Company and receiving a few promotions, he joined the Navy.
Upon returning home, Morgan finally was able to buy a truck. He made a return on his investment by using the truck to move families out of the mill, deliver coal and pick up garbage.
As a pulpwood cutter, many view Morgan as instrumental in the postwar development of Newton County, which experienced rapid home building and commercial development as many other parts of the country did after World War II. In 1944, Morgan opened the county’s first pulpwood yard, Morgan Timber Co., which is still operating today.
A year later, Morgan married Barbara Davis, whom he met in Porterdale while she was working as a first grade teacher. The couple settled on a 258 acre plot on the Alcovy River east of Covington in 1946 and went on to have seven children. Morgan began cotton and dairy farming while still running the timber facility. In 1951, Morgan received a $50 prize for the first bale of cotton ginned in Newton County. Later, he planted soybeans, peaches and began raising cattle. Even in his late 80s Morgan grew soybeans and wheat.
Although former commission chairman Roy Varner took over the position directly after Morgan, he first met him through agriculture, as the two both farmed large plots in the county.
"He never met a stranger," Varner said. "He could talk to anybody."
Varner remembers Morgan as always outspoken with his opinions, but always fair also.
"Jack’s ideas was one thing and mine was another," Varner said, "but we was always able to discuss them and figure out what was best for the community."
Morgan always had an eye for real estate. Among many purchases, he and partners bought and developed the Dina Pace property between Lawnwood Cemetery and Brown Bridge Road. Other properties he bought and sold include where Covington Crossings shopping center is located, where the Econo Lodge was built and the lot on Pace Street where the first Wal-Mart in Covington was built.
Across from the old Wal-Mart on Pace Street he developed Morgan Plaza in order to relocate his Otasco Store, which burned in Covington Meadows in 1974. As a retailer, Morgan became the first grading and paving contractor in the county.
He later founded Morgan Concrete Co. on Cook Road, which is now leased to USA Ready Mix. His sons were partners in many of his businesses.
Prominent real estate appraiser Eddie Phillips knew Morgan through his many real estate ventures, but first through Covington’s First United Methodist Church.
"He was a good, solid man who loved his community, supported his church and did everything he could to improve our area," Phillips said, adding he always made good on his word and he never acted like a man in the twilight of his life.
Those familiar with Morgan know he always had an interest in politics. In 1961, he was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives and in 1970 became Newton County Commission chairman. This position was later held by his son Davis and today by his daughter-in-law (Davis’ widow) Kathy Morgan.
During his eight-year tenure as commission chairman, Morgan oversaw the paving of 142 miles of county roads and the start of the county’s first ambulance service, garbage collection and landfills. Morgan also served six years as a member of the Georgia Rural Development Authority.
For almost 65 years, Morgan was a loyal member of the men’s Sunday school class at First United Methodist Church. Family members said his favorite Bible verse was "whatsoever thy hands find to do, do it with thy might," and that it was his life’s inspiration.
When former Mayor Sam Ramsey was president of the Newton County Chamber of Commerce, he worked closely with Morgan while he was serving as commission chair. However, he came to know Morgan best through church.
"I’ll never forget, he talked my wife into doing a piano recording because he enjoyed listening to her play so much," Ramsey said.
Morgan even gave her money to record the track she called "Sweet, Sweet Spirit."
"Jack was quite a promoter," Ramsey said. "He bought a bunch of the recordings and gave them out to different people."
Ramsey said his wife, Becky, will play at Morgan’s funeral Thursday.
"Personally, I know of things he did for people that he wouldn’t even want me to repeat," Ramsey said, "but he did a world of good for a lot of people."
He added that Morgan was never afraid to share his opinions and that he remained interested in his business and family affairs until the very end.
"He modeled for his family what it is to be a husband, father and grandfather, a reputable business man, a man who loved the land, a dreamer and a doer who didn't know the word 'quit,'" Jack Jr. said. "His presence is irreplaceable in our lives."