Long time city councilman John Garrard, pictured above with his late wife Fonda, is also a recipient of the Atmore Lifetime Achievement Award.

Atmore Icons: John Garrard

Published 2:00am Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Note: This is the second in a series of articles aimed at honoring Atmore residents, many of whom were chosen based on popular demand, who have become truly iconic in the community.

A long-distance pen pal became the love of John Garrard’s life more than six decades ago — and she brought him to Atmore where he met many more friends and became a leader in banking as well as civic and community service.

Garrard said he moved to Atmore because of his love of Fonda, his late wife, and has lived here for 63 years.

“Back a long time ago, I signed up in a comic book to get a pen pal, and Fonda answered my letter,” Garrard said. “We corresponded over the next several years, including my years in the U.S. Navy. After World War II was over I moved to Atmore and grew to love not only Fonda, but the city of Atmore as well. This is the friendliest town I have ever lived in.”

Garrard was born in the little town of Flora, near Jackson, Miss. He graduated from Flora High School as valedictorian in 1944.

“All the boys in school either joined the military or were drafted into service when they graduated, so I decided to go ahead and join the Navy so I could make the decision as to where I served,” he said. “I joined the Navy because I was urged to make that move by other relatives and friends. I served in the Pacific during the rest of the war.”

Volunteering for a job on the ship gave Garrard a chance to do what he loved — and presaged what he would do in his adopted hometown.

“One time I was working with a lot of other deck hands cleaning the deck of the ship and one of the officers came out and asked if anyone could type. I was the only one to hold my hand up, so I got the job working in the tiny library on board. I got a new job and a promotion, all at the same time.”

That experience served him well in years to come, as he has a great love of books. He has served on the Atmore Public Library board for the past 48 years.

After World War II was over, Garrard attended and graduated from Millsaps College with a bachelor’s degree in economics and business administration and a minor in secondary education. Before long he made the trip to Brewton and married his pen pal that he had been writing to since he was a teenager. He went to work at Escambia County High School and taught there until 1953. Since then he has worked in various capacities at First National Bank and Trust for 58 years. He was a member of the Rotary Club for 30 years, was named as Atmore

Citizen of the Year in 1981, and worked in prison ministry at Fountain Prison for 15 years.

“I made some good friends while I was ministering to those in prison,” Garrard said. “Some people don’t understand when I say that, but it’s true. Many of them are there because they made some wrong choices in their lives, but they need friends just like everyone else. I have three or four that I still correspond with.

“I like to think that I helped them, and I know they made a difference in my life,” he said with a tear in his eye.

Garrard was presented with the Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. Not only has he been recognized by his peers, but many know him from his many years of civic service to his community. Among all his concerns are those around him who need help, and he has worked with Meals on Wheels for the past 22 years. He has been a member of the Atmore City Council for the past 16 years, but said that he is finally going to step down.

Garrard said that life has been good to him, but he recently lost the love of his life, Fonda, who passed away a couple of weeks ago. Garrard said misses her greatly.

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