But Atlanta Gas Light was not his first employer. His first, that I am aware of, was a man named Paul “Rooney” Cagle. Rooney owned a service station at the “V” in south Canton. It was a real service station. There are very few of those left in the world today. They pumped your gas, checked your oil, washed your windshield and would even take the time to carry on a conversation.
I guess that is why we refer to the places we have today as gas stations or convenience stores. You have to pump your own gas which I am sure is very convenient for the owners of the establishments. It is certainly more convenient for the employees.
I remember as a child going to Rooney’s station with my dad. One of Rooney’s employees, John Humphries, would come to the car with a huge smile in preparation for verbal sparring with my Dad. He would also tease me while always referring to me as his grandson.
What is so funny about that you might ask? You see, John was black and my family is white. And John would laugh hysterically, because he knew that I was trying to figure out how I turned out so pale seeing that he was my granddaddy.
As an adult, I had the honor of visiting John in his home. He introduced me to his family as his grandson. The faces on the children were as priceless as I’m sure mine was when I was a child.
Rooney and John were good to my family and me up until the day they both died. They were both good folks. I know I referred to John as black and myself as white, but I am no longer exactly sure what is politically correct. But if reading this has given one any doubt as to where I stand on racism, I would encourage you to talk to people from other races that know me before passing judgment. Because if you knew John or Rooney, you loved them both.
When I entered law enforcement, I was blessed enough to move up through the ranks. When I was a sergeant, Rooney always called me “Sarge.” It didn’t matter where we were or who was there, he referred to me as Sarge. The same thing happened through every rank up until I became a major. He never failed to address me by my rank. It was humbling coming from a man who I respected so much.
And if you asked Sheriff Garrison, I believe he would tell you he did him the same.
I had the privilege, before Rooney died, to take a weekend trip with him and Sheriff Garrison. We went to the mountains for a couple of days to just get away and spend some time with Rooney. It was a small token of our appreciation for Rooney’s years of love and support he had shown us. It was one of those trips you never forget.
Rooney had a way with words that could not be matched. He never met a stranger. And when we would go out and eat, it amazed me at the level of service we received knowing it was only because of Rooney and his way with people.
When we arrived in the mountains, Rooney said he needed to take a nap. So the sheriff and I headed out to explore the town. Before we left, we had mistakenly put Rooney’s personal items in our room on the table in front of the window.
Time must have got away from us because when we got back Rooney was pacing in front of our room. He said, “I’m glad to see ya’ll boys get back. I was worried about you. Well, that and I can’t get to my stuff.”
Rooney lived a good and long life. I still think about him every time I ride by his old home place on Butterworth Road.
He wasn’t just successful in business; he was equally successful in life. And because of the lives he touched, when he was laid to rest, it was enough to make the toughest men cry.
Chris Collett is a lifelong resident of