Remembering important names, places of 1961
By Lowell McGill
The announcement last week of two Vanity Fair plants closing reminds me of the year 1961 when two prominent Atmore vanity Fair executives were promoted after several years of outstanding service here.
Glenn Pitts was named the manager of the Jackson plant that year. It was that same plant included as one of two to be phased out completely according to a story last week in the “Mobile Press Register.” Monroeville is the other plant.
Fruit of the Looms has since become involved in ownership of the plants and saw need to phase out a portion of the Monroeville plant and all of the Jackson plant.
H.B. Williams was the other exec. who left Atmore that year. He received a promotion with the plant in Butler. VF had its beginning back in 1937 with manufacturing of textiles in Jackson and Monroeville. Today Monroeville is the only area town that represents the storied past of this company. The Atmore plant was shut down a few years ago.
Staying with other news of 1961, I remember Ben Haley heading a gala return party for one of Atmore’s more prominent citizens. Tarzan White, who made a name for himself as an All-American football player at the University of Alabama, was honored by local civic organizations with a banquet. Following his playing days at ECHS and Alabama, he became a first round draft pick for the New York Giants in 1937. White spent several years in the pro ranks and went into professional wrestling following his football career. He was one of several Bama players selected as first round picks over the past 70 years. Others included the likes of Harry Gilmer, Bobby Marlow, Fred Sington, Billy Neighbors, Joe Namath, Johnny Musso and countless others.
White was, allegedly, famous for his railroad boxcar days, hopping trains, traveling cross country and living off the fruits, nuts and vegetables he mustered along the way. He, reportedly, one time wrestled the national wrestling champion of Russia.
Another former native who found success was back in Atmore for a couple of days that year. Paul Smith, who went by the stage name of Paul Birch, returned to see family and was honored by some local city officials when Atmore’s Airport was dedicated.
Birch was somewhat like the famous actor of today, Harry Morgan, as he had a history of maintaining steady employment in bit roles and some more prominent roles. One of his biggest hits was the TV series “Cannonball,” the adventure of a long haul trucker. He was really recognized as the original
I remember a TV show that year where panelists were asked questions of interest. One of the questions was “How many pounds of food did the average person eat in 196l?” If my memory serves me correctly the answer was almost 1,500 pounds a year. Wonder if that would be same today?
Staying with 1961, I remember the passing of Les McCoy. A tremendously successful businessman here, he had kin also in Perdido. His wife Thera was such an accomplished piano player. Barbara McCoy, the daughter of Catherine and the late Hugo Rogers of Perdido, furnished me some interesting information on the Les McCoy family. She had family connections to the McCoy’s and she married a McCoy (no relation) from Illinois. Her father-in-law is Bucky McCoy, a very well known historical writer in his own right. Bucky, who “winters” near Nokomis, has written countless news articles for leading national magazines. I have found many of his stories on the Internet and have enjoyed reading all of them.
Barbara has also furnished me some interesting information of the Methodist Churches of Baldwin, Escambia and Monroe counties. I hope to have a column on these churches and the members of their respective congregations in the not too distant future.
In 1961 another career came to an end here. Clarence Bryars, who served as Atmore Police Chief, retired following 18 years as Chief with the Atmore City Police.
Dizzy Dean, of baseball fame, made a stop in Atmore that year on his way home to Wiggins, Ms. Dizzy and Pee Wee Reese, were the main major league TV baseball announcers during this era. I have visited his grave in Bond, Ms. on several occasions.
1961 was a good year for the movies. Charles Heston continued to soar in popularity in “Ben Hur” and “Moon River” the Andy William classic song, was introduced in the movie comedy “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”
It was the year baseball made its highest salary known when Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees received a salary of $75,000. Today that would only be a drop in the bucket, as baseball salaries have completely gone “out of sight.”
It was also one of the great years Atmore sent Little League, Babe Ruth League and Senior Babe Ruth League teams to state and national tournaments.
I’ll take a look at some more events you’ll surely remember from 1961-64 in upcoming columns.
Lowell McGill is a historical columnist for The Atmore Advance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org