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'Chief Mac' honored

Funeral services for former Thomson Fire Chief Raymond McHatton were held at the Thomson Fire Department Headquarters on Main Street on Friday morning.

Affectionately known as Chief Mac, he served as fire chief for 25 years after a distinguished Army career that spanned two decades. He retired as the city's fire chief back in 1995.

A flag-draped casket was set up in the bay area where fire trucks normally are parked. And a room full of family, friends, firefighters and city officials occupied folding chairs. Those who attended were there to pay last respects to a man who had given so much of himself to the service of thousands of other Americans during both his military and firefighting careers.

Many of the firefighters attending the service were clad in their dress blues and had their badges draped by black tape -- signifying the loss of one of their brothers.

The service began with several country songs that portrayed Chief McHatton as the man he became after retiring as fire chief. He loved his Harley-Davidson motorcycle and he loved riding throughout the United States with his wife, Peggy. The couple also went to Canada and Mexico.

Chief McHatton logged 220,000 miles between the years 2000 and 2010 in the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

"He was an adventurer," said former Thomson Mayor Bob Knox, Jr., who gave the eulogy.

One of the songs was titled, I've Been Everywhere ; while another, The Final Curtain , was sung by the late Elvis Presley.

"If there was ever anybody who did it their way, it was Raymond McHatton," said Mr. Knox.

He said he came to know Chief McHatton in 1973 when he became a city councilman and Mr. McHatton became fire chief.

"Raymond and I got to know each other pretty well," recalled Mr. Knox.

The prominent lawyer said Chief McHatton turned the entire city fire department around, noting that when he came to Thomson, the city was an all-volunteer fire department.

"He absolutely put his heart and soul into it," said Mr. Knox.

Chief McHatton, who had lived in Thomson until about 10 or 11 years ago when he and Mrs. McHatton moved out of state, helped lower the city's ISO rating from a Class 7 to a Class 4 during his 2 1/2 decades as fire chief.

Mr. Knox said things were tight then, just like they are now, but Chief McHatton found a way to get equipment at a reduced cost. He began shopping at a state surplus auction in Swainsboro.

One of his first major purchases was a used ladder truck, which was actually bought back in 1983.

The truck was taken out of service just two years ago, according to current Fire Chief Rick Sewell.

"He went out and found a way to do it," added Mr. Knox, referring to how Chief McHatton saved the city taxpayers lots of money by buying surplus property. "It was his pushing and ingenuity that made it possible."

Training was another important facet that Chief McHatton immediately brought to the fire department, said Mr. Knox.

"It helped create a more up-to-date and modern fire department," he continued.

"He was as organized as he could be. Everything was set up in a well organized fashion."

Mr. Knox said Chief McHatton built teamwork and camaraderie.

"That was the chief's way of getting his men to be better firefighters," he pointed out. "The chief also knew how to have fun. In essence, he put together a winning team."

In closing, Mr. Knox said, "He really was a public servant. He was a firefighter, a patriot and a family man. And he loved Thomson, his adopted home."

The Rev. Newton Cranford presided over the funeral service and the burial, which was held at Westview Cemetery in Thomson. He was assisted by the Rev. Tim Ferrell of Bethel Baptist Church, who serves as chaplain of the Thomson Fire Department.

Chief McHatton's casket was hoisted onto a fire engine, accompanied by local firefighters to the burial site.

There, the casket was removed by a military honor guard from nearby Fort Gordon.

Web posted on Thursday, March 25, 2010

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