There was a lot to love about Charlie King who died Saturday at the age of 96. Former Covington City Manager Frank Turner put it as well as anyone could: "There's no one who didn't love Charlie King."
His demeanor bespoke a previous century in which more commonly than now, gentlemen tipped their hats to ladies, rushed to open doors before them and watched their language around them. Charlie had engaged in and enjoyed many different careers in his lifetime and seen successes enough to satisfy any man, but he shunned prideful displays of any honors or achievements. He was a humble man and deferential to a fault. He was grateful for all of God's blessings and all of life's lessons, however harsh they might have been. He honored his parents to the very end of his long life, along with all who trod the footpaths, wagon trails, rutted roads and paved byways of Newton County far before he arrived in this world on October 7, 1915 as Charles Chester King Jr.
Charlie wore many hats around town, most proudly his American Legion cap that he doffed on any patriotic occasion. A veteran of World War II, Charlie remained in the U.S. Army Reserves, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. He was proud to be a military man and proud that his own son Barrett, followed in his footsteps.
Another hat he wore proudly was that of Historian Laureate of Newton County.
The resolution signed in May 2000, noted that Charlie's forefathers were among the earliest settlers in the county. It went on to laud Charlie's long service to his community, the state and nation in various capacities and his leadership in many organizations dedicated to preserving Newton County's historical and cultural heritage. "Therefore be it resolved that to honor his long dedication and service to the people of this county, the Newton County Board of Commissioners does hereby name and proclaim Charles Chester King Jr., Esq., to be Historian Laureate of Newton County." It was signed by the late Davis C. Morgan, then Commission Chair. The two shared a deep mutual appreciation.
Charlie knew this county's history better than any living soul. It is fortunate the Newton County Historical Society, where he was once president and many times honored, captured at least a portion of his prodigious historical memories in two taped oral histories made in recent years. Pierce Cline, a member of the organization and a fellow retired Army Reservist, described Charlie as a "walking history book." "We have lost a giant," he said. Homer Sharp Jr., a longtime activist on behalf of Newton County's historical heritage, said, "Every time you saw Charlie, you learned something new."
Son Barrett said his dad was prone to "shaggy dog stories." "Whatever you might be talking about could lead him off in another direction, and he'd say, ‘Well, that reminds me of so-and-so,' and you'd get another story you'd never heard before." Newton County Landscape Architect Debbie Bell, who worked closely with Charlie on a number of projects, recalls "every visit brought with it a mini-lesson in history or politics."
Cheryl Delk, Newton County Special Projects Director, knew Charlie as well as anyone in recent years. "His most outstanding characteristic was his enthusiasm and curiosity, sometimes almost childlike in his pleasure about even the littlest things. He spoke his mind and his opinion was respected because it was backed up by years of experience. He had a mind like a steel trap."
Charlie was a member of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, where his memorial services will be held tomorrow at 1 p.m. Mark Hodges, a much younger member, took a special interest in Charlie in the past few years and saw that Charlie got out to attend many special events in the community. "When I first learned about Charlie's death, my first thought was that an entire issue of the newspaper should be dedicated to him. I've known no one with more natural curiosity. He always wanted his friends to tell him what was happening in their lives, and he wasn't just being polite. He really did listen intently and remember what he heard.
"Some years back, Charlie learned that a young couple of his acquaintance had lived in a tent house on a platform in the country near Social Circle," Hodges said. "This intrigued him so much that he just had to see that tent, even if it meant trudging through the woods in his late eighties. That's how I'll remember Charlie: intensely interested in life and willing to go to a lot of trouble to find out about it."
I'll miss my own visits with him, sitting in his jumbled study where papers, journals and books were stacked and scattered everywhere. Although Charlie loved history, he certainly didn't live in the past. There on his desk amid his lists and letters, sat the computer he used to keep in touch, read up on the news and do research. A gentleman and a scholar, he was, but he'd probably even today shy from the compliment intended. Oh, he'll be missed.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.