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Athens native Fred Agnew Birchmore passed away quietly at his home on April 15, 2012, lovingly attended by his devoted wife of 72 years, Willa Deane Stuckey, and their younger son, Dr. Danny Birchmore..
The second son of Fred Gillam Birchmore and Nela Rebecca Agnew, Fred was born November 29, 1911 in their home on Dougherty Street close to downtown Athens. He claimed to have been sickly as a young child, but improved his physique by engaging in vigorous sporting workouts at the Athens YMCA, where he remained a lifelong active member. As a student athlete at the University of Georgia he excelled in gymnastics and was a Southern Conference boxing champion. Shortly before his death he was heralded as the oldest living Bulldog athlete.
He was also a ten-year member of the University of Georgia Redcoat Band, since his high school music instructor also happened to be the director of the band and appreciated Fred's skill on the cornet. Fred also possessed a clear tenor and sang in the University Glee Club and for many years in the choir of First Methodist Church.
After receiving his Bachelor of Arts, Fred remained at the University to simultaneously earn his Master of Arts in English and his law degree. He then traveled to Cologne, Germany to participate in an International Exchange Student Program and study for a Doctorate of Law.
During the semester breaks he and fellow students would take bicycle tours throughout neighboring countries, and while on a tour into Egypt Fred's paper were stolen and he was unable to return to Germany in time for the next semester.
This misfortune led him to one of the great adventures of his life. He set out on his bicycle to the east, crossing the Sinai into Palestine, across Persia, through the wilds of tribal Afghanistan and over the Khyber Pass into India. From there he traveled through Southeast Asia, finally heading for home from Manila, Phillippines, earning his passage by piloting the ship because the seamen were on strike.
A bout of malaria had prolonged his trip to two years, and his parents were awaiting on the dock in California to thwart any potential diversionary cycling. Readjusting to "normal life" proved to be a new challenge:
"Another practice that caused some people to think me peculiar was my habit of sleeping on my roof. After sleeping out-of-doors for two years with nothing but God's fresh air to breathe and with the moon and stars and clouds as my nighttime companions, I suffered from what was termed 'claustrophobia' so badly that I was compelled to sleep on top of my house to breathe. I no longer considered this at all odd, for the Afghans preferred this, but my fellow Athenians would point and shake their heads..." (From his book, Miracles in My Life, 1996.)
In the spring of 1939 he left his law practice and set out again on a trip around North America, shortly after his book Around the World on a Bicycle was the first book published by the University of Georgia Press (1939). Since the bicycle he named "Bucephalus" that he had ridden on his first trip had been requested by the Smithsonian, he had a new steed named "Pegasus". Returning to Athens, he was giving lectures, writing, and while leading a youth group on a hiking expedition met his bride, Willa Deane Stuckey. After their honeymoon bicycling throughout the Caribbean and Central America on a two-seater bicycle, he took a position as dean and professor of English at South Georgia College in Douglas.
With the developing war in Europe, Fred and Willa Deane took pilot training for transAtlantic delivery of aircraft, but Willa Deane's becoming pregnant ended this possibility, and after Fred completed his teaching term the couple moved to Brunswick, Georgia to join the war effort in the shipyards there. After serving as selective service officer for some time, Fred decided to participate more directly himself and took a commission in the Navy, serving as gunnery officer on convoy duty in the Atlantic.
After the war, they returned to Athens and moved into what would become their permanent home, aptly named "Happy Hollow." Fred formed his own real estate agency, "Athens Realty Company," and for many years helped Athens area residents find their own happy homes.
In the years following Fred and Willa Deane raised four children, and were vigorous participants in the life of the Athens Community. Fred was a leader of both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, founder of the Athens Bird Club, creator of many hiking and nature trails in area parks, a proponent of Athens as the site for many facilities such as the State Botanical Garden, and a lifetime and active member of the First Methodist Church. He also remained active in Kiwanis Club of Athens throughout his life, serving as lieutenant governor, and as chairman of the Sunshine Committee, one of his favorite assignments. He was a vigorous supporter of Bulldog athletics, especially of the tennis program, in which two of his sons and one daughter received varsity letters for men's tennis. He continued to remain outstandingly active, traveling the world over (except Antarctica) with Willa Deane, and hiking and biking throughout the Americas and Europe with various family members.
Fred was inducted in the Athens Athletic Hall of Fame along with daughter Becky and son Danny in 2002; the Birchmore Trail in Memorial park is named for him. The Athens Area Coalition for Active Aging has an award in his name. Perhaps one of his greatest honors was being selected by the people of Athens and the state of Georgia to carry the Olympic Torch under the Arch in 1996.
He was known for his many amazing achievements, and beloved for his inspiring and encouraging of others. He often said that in his travels what impressed him most was the kindness of strangers and the hospitality of even the poorest, given the chance, and that a greater sense of humanity was paramount-":How pathetic that people of one country should be so wrapped up in themselves as to never realize that there are peoples of other countries who eat food, wear clothes (some of them), and behave like human beings just as they." (Around the World on a Bicycle, 1939).
His parting wish to all:
"Until we see each other again,
May good health and happiness go with you for the rest of your journey through life on God's beautiful spaceship Earth."
He is survived by his beloved and devoted wife, Willa Deane; two sons, Fred C.Birchmore of San Diego, CA; Daniel A. Birchmore of Athens and Nashville, Tenn.; two daughters, Rebecca Birchmore Campen and husband Tom of Savannah, Georgia; Melinda Birchmore Musick and husband Joe of Huntsville, Alabama; eight grandchildren: Christy Jane Bedingfield Kraeuter, Marvin Bradford Bedingfield, Herbert Marvin Bedingfield, Fred Birchmore IV, Katherine Rose Birchmore Pettis. Joseph Alexander Musick, Katherine Thach Musick, Michael Carter Musick, and eight greatgrandchildren; niece Sally Birchmore Wildman of Athens, two greatnieces, and friends and admirers too numerous to list.
Visitation will be held at Bernstein Funeral Home from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday, April 17, 2012 and a memorial service will be held at First United Methodist Church at 2 p.m. Wednesday, April 18, 2012.
Online condolences may be offered at www.bernsteinfuneralhome.com
Bernstein Funeral Home and Cremation Service is in charge of arrangements.
Published in Athens Banner-Herald on Apr. 17, 2012
Arrangements under the direction of:
Bernstein Funeral Home and Cremation Services
3195 Atlanta Highway | Athens, GA 30606 | (706) 543-7373