My earliest memory of Eddie Lee Ivery is in the basement of the McDuffie County hospital.
No, the football great wasn't there, but one of my father's co-workers in the pharmacy -- which was housed in the basement back then -- knew Mr. Ivery (Yes, Mr. Ivery -- the man certainly deserves respect) and I was mesmerized by that. Could there have been anything cooler?
Nearly 20 years later, I know the answer.
Yes, there is something cooler.
It's standing in Ivery's restaurant, listening to the football great talk about how his footsteps are on the path God has laid for him and how he's thankful the Lord has been there to watch over him. Life, he said, is such a blessing. No matter what it brings your way, life is a blessing.
For Mr. Ivery, life's a changing. The man who spent part of his life tearing up defenses in front of thousands of people admitted he was nervous about Friday night's jersey retirement ceremony at The Brickyard. The mag-nitude of the honor, he said, was almost over-whelming. (It did, in fact, bring the former Brickyard star to tears and generated one of the most moving, heart-felt thank-you speeches I've ever heard.)
But that's just the first of two big weekends for Mr. Ivery. This weekend, he's getting married -- an event that stirs up even more butterflies.
As a life-long McDuffie Countian (as long as I can remember anyway), it's great to see someone like Mr. Ivery living life as it should be. He's not shy about discussing the ups and downs -- especially the downs -- he's already been through. And he's not shy about the excitement he's taking with him into the future.
But very little of what Mr. Ivery says is about his own successes. He's more apt to credit others for providing the building blocks of his life.
A story you probably won't hear from Mr. Ivery (but certainly will from Ralph Starling) involves a speech the former football star gave at the Boys and Girls Club Steak and Burger Dinner. After the event -- as Mr. Ivery worried about his performance -- a Boys and Girls official compared the speech to others of the past, including Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy. There was no contest: Mr. Ivery was the group's best ever.
Friday night, after the tears had dried, Mr. Ivery flashed his glowing smile for dozens of people crowded into Ivery's. A photographer snapped pictures as people strolled in shook hands and hugged a Thomson legend. He took time to sign a few autographs, pose for pictures with kids and make the dreams of a 30-year-old fan come true.
There'll always be a framed jersey at Thomson High School in Mr. Ivery's honor. But they need to add a big framed heart underneath it, just to make sure everyone sees what really mattered about the man.