It’s now been 11 years ago this week that I lost one of my dearest friends, James Parrish of Ashford, right outside of Dothan.  A longtime high school football official, he was refereeing the first ball game of the season when he suddenly fell dead.

It was Friday night and I had been to dinner somewhere in Montgomery.  My phone was in my car.  When I got to my phone, I was surprised to see that I had seven missed calls.  I knew something was wrong.  Bad wrong.

One returned missed call and I was stunned.  How could this happen?

I lived in Dothan from 1985-95.  I don’t recall exactly how or when I met James.  My best guess is that it was at Ray’s Restaurant on the south side of town.  Look long enough and you can find a Ray’s in most every community.  Locally-owned with a clientele of mostly good ole boys who gather for breakfast and to dispense wisdom to one and all.  The place that is on the “must do” list of any politician.

It was where we gathered each Saturday morning to see who was playing golf that day and where.  Folks like Curt, William, Ralph, Ken, Bill, Wade.  They were coaches, salesmen, business owners, etc.  Their stock in trade was irreverence and most any comment they felt would get under someone’s skin.  For sure, not all rules of golf were strictly adhered to, but the outings were fun and we kept coming back for more.

After learning what happened Friday night, I got up early Saturday morning and drove from Montgomery to Dothan to Ray’s Restaurant.  It just seemed the right thig to do.

James grew up in Geneva and went to Troy.  He was a year younger than I was.  And like me, Auburn was his team.  So I joined many tailgates prior to Auburn games with James and his sweet wife Donna.  And at least twice we went to Baton Rouge to see Auburn tangle with LSU.

James and I had at least one other thing in common.  We both realized that you could vote for a Democrat and lightening would not strike you.  (Though in this time and age, I doubt you could find many others in the Wiregrass who would agree with this.)

I think about James from time to time.  He died in 2009.  Cam Newton showed up at Auburn in 2010 and Auburn won the national championship.  Oh how James would have enjoyed that season, how much fun would he have had with his buddies at Rays?

And how much fun would he have shared with his grandchildren in the last decade.

James Parrish was a good guy.  The kind of person who makes our communities and our way of life meaningful.  I will always miss him.