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Thanks Kemp, we'll miss you

Shortly after I arrived in Statesboro in 2002, a gentleman in the truest sense of the word shuffled into my office and introduced himself: “I’m Kemp Mabry. I wanted to welcome you to Statesboro. You’ll like it here.”

He was right and he was one of the reasons why. Dr. Mabry passed away Thursday morning leaving a void in our community and our newspaper that will be impossible to fill.

As his health failed him in the past few years, his intellect never did. And neither did his commitment to supporting our men and women in uniform – both past and present. He was a patriot in the truest sense of the word. A veteran of World War II, Dr. Mabry was the driving force behind the Memorial Day and Veterans Day programs in Statesboro for many years. In fact, Dr. Mabry called me three weeks ago to touch base on the Memorial Day program he was beginning to put together, even though it was almost four months away.

If there was a military event in the area, Kemp probably helped organize it.

In my first two years here, Kemp would visit the paper to drop off his column pretty regularly and he sat in my office for a 30-minute chat about coming events and other things once a month. It was always a pleasure and an honor that he wanted to share stories with me. One visit stands out.

It was December 2003 and Kemp came in the Herald office, he said, to talk to me about the special section we had just published on local World War II veterans. Kemp was instrumental in encouraging area vets to give us information and photos for the section. Anyway, he thanked me for the section and then got this serious expression.

“Jim,” he said, “I need you to help me with this event we’re having. The Scottish Heritage Society is holding a Robert Burns Supper and we want you to be part of it.”

I said sure and he went on to give me a history lesson on Robert Burns and the importance of the annual supper to the Society.

“So what is it you want me to do?” I asked him.

“Well, first we need you to wear a kilt.”

A dress? I could do that, I thought to myself.

“Then we need you to make a toast to the group.”

Stand up in front of everyone in a dress and speak? OK, I can see that.

“Then we need you to eat a traditional bowl of Haggis.”

“Haggis? What’s that?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s something all Scots eat and very tasty, I’m told.”

Not convinced, but not concerned, I pressed on: “What’s in it?”

Not batting an eye, he said: “Traditional Scottish ingredients like beef heart, beef liver, beef suet and it’s all boiled together in a stocking.”

Getting sick in front of a crowd in a dress after giving a toast … my mind was racing on how to gracefully get out of this while not appearing nauseous at the same time.

“People actually eat that?”

“Oh yes. And it’s the most important part of the traditional supper,” Kemp said.

I started to stammer about having something else to do and then he couldn’t contain himself anymore. He burst out laughing. Many times after that he asked me if I had eaten any Haggis lately.

As you may have read in the obituary and story in today’s paper, Kemp was a contributing writer to this newspaper for more than 55 years. His column has run every Sunday for more than 20. He told Herald newsroom assistant Rheneta Ward and me several times that his column would be the last thing he gave up as his health deteriorated. Well, he never gave it up. Wednesday his good friend Dan Good delivered his weekly column as Kemp was going into the hospital.

For the final time, Kemp’s column will run in Sunday’s Lifestyles section, where it always does. Please enjoy it.

We’ll miss you, Kemp.

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