The irony of the situation was not wasted on most who heard the news.
Robby, in his lifelong career in emergency services in Cherokee County, has probably responded to thousands of calls of a serious accident, seen dozens of seriously injured people air-lifted, and consoled and soothed hundreds of concerned relatives.
Now serving as director of the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, Robby has over the years been fire chief in Woodstock and for Cherokee County and headed just about every emergency agency at the county level.
Now it was Robby’s wife, Donna, and daughter Emily receiving the care of emergency workers on the scene of a horrific accident that had left another man dead and others seriously injured.
What amazed me was how quickly word went out about the accident.
I got a call just as I was leaving work about the accident. My husband was attending a firefighter graduation for Cherokee County that evening and heard the news there as fellow emergency service folks buzzed about the situation.
Donna, who was driving along state Highway 108 between Waleska and Highway 515, had been hit head-on. She was airlifted by emergency aircraft to a hospital in Atlanta for treatment. The couple’s daughter was taken to the local Jasper hospital with injuries that were serious but not considered life-threatening.
Before long the grapevine was in full swing. Facebook was lighting up with comments about the accident.
Eventually, Robby himself began posting updates about the situation and his wife and daughter’s condition. The response of offers of prayer and concern was immediate.
Somehow, the virtual social network was doing its job, and you could tangibly feel the care and love pouring out on this well-liked and well-known family.
Our community felt close and caring, even though we rarely see each other these days face to face.
It was just like the old days when I was young here in Cherokee County and if anything happened to someone we knew the response was immediate.
Back then, people picked up the phone and called with the news. Or walked next door to the neighbor’s house and sat on the porch to chat and discuss the situation.
If someone was sick, people dropped by their house to offer support and drop off a freshly baked cake or a casserole. If they were not at home, usually the door was unlocked and you could just slip in and leave something on the kitchen counter.
Of course, church was an integral part of the fabric of community and people would have prayer chains to get the word out when someone was injured or in the hospital.
In the early days of Canton’s R.T. Jones Hospital, the WCHK radio station even carried the admissions and dismissals for that day on the air. That way, all you had to do was tune in and keep up.
The newspaper was also a good source of what was happening in the neighborhood.
Another way was when the postman delivered the mail, particularly on Main Street in Canton. He knew everyone on the route and would share little tidbits of information along with the mail.
But mostly it was just people talking to people, visiting, walking along the street, going to the post office and shopping in town.
We kept up, we were nosy, but we really cared.
Then as time went on, people became more isolated in their lives. It became almost a thing of the past to drop in on anyone. Neighbors stopping by were considered intrusive.
I would say the 1980s and 1990s were almost an isolationist time. Perhaps because of communities experiencing growth, perhaps because of women working more outside the home and having no time to bake for themselves, much less their neighbors.
Now once again times have changed.
The weird thing is that the computer, which helped isolate us in many ways even more, has suddenly opened us up to each other in ways we could not have imagined.
I would never have thought I would like Facebook, but here I am depending on it. I am a complete convert.
When something happens like it did to Robby Westbrook and his family, now we can stay in touch without being obtrusive. And that is a great way to have the old community feel I sometimes miss once more available in today’s modern world.
Rebecca Johnston is managing editor of The Cherokee Tribune.