Perhaps some people gave pause on Monday, September 14, 2020, when they heard of the passing of Mayo Livingston, Jr. in the house his grandfather built in 1915 in Cyrene. Surely this news spurred a faint memory from years ago and maybe a dabbed tear, then a silent thought; only after a few minutes of quiet reflection, a slight smile of gratitude came about when it was realized that just knowing such a man was a joy and what it meant to spend just a little time with him. Whatever time spent with Mayo will forever be remembered as a gift.
George Mayo Livingston, Jr. was born December 11, 1929 in Albany, GA at Phoebe Putney Hospital to George Mayo Livingston and Elizabeth Denmark Hodges Livingston. He moved to Bainbridge in the ninth grade and graduated from Bainbridge High School in the Class of 1947. It was during his senior year at Bainbridge High that three of his classmates died in the Winecoff Fire, in downtown Atlanta, on December 7, 1946. He carried the memories of Sue Broome, Maxine Willis, and Ruth Powell with him the rest of his life. He would tell a granddaughter during an interview he granted for one of her college papers, “I didn’t know the younger kids who were at the Winecoff because I didn’t grow up here, but Sue, Maxine, and Ruth were like sisters I never had and the class was so small we knew everybody. And they accepted me coming in from Albany.” He was supposed to go to Atlanta that weekend, but his mother told him he couldn’t; he had to help take care of his grandmothers, but as he told her, “I don’t think I would have stayed at the Winecoff, I’m sure I would have stayed with Ramsay [Simmons, Jr.] down at the Piedmont [Hotel]; that’s where the older boys stayed.” After his granddaughter interviewed him for her paper, Mayo said, “That’s the last time I’ll ever talk about the Winecoff.” It was. She interviewed his friend, Ramsay Simmons, Jr., for the same paper just a few days later; Ramsay corroborated everything Mayo said. Addie’s paper finds its way onto the Internet each year on December 7, the anniversary of the Winecoff fire.
After spending a year at Emory College, Mayo transferred to the University of Georgia, where he graduated with a degree in forestry in 1951. Mayo served his country in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean Conflict.
Once here, Mayo loved Bainbridge and it was by his actions he made it evident. Mayo and his wife, Joan, were counselors with the Methodist Youth Fellowship on Sunday nights for several years. Later, he teamed up with Jimmy Hines and the two of them were Edgar Priest’s assistant scoutmasters for decades. Make no mistake about it, Jimmy and Mayo were the lieutenants and Edgar was the general; all three men liked it that way. Mayo, Jimmy, and Edgar took the scouts of Troop 502 to such places as Shanghai Bridges, Brinson Springs, Paul Trulock’s rye field, Reynolds’ sandbar, and Wallwood, among other places to camp. Edgar told someone much later, “Jimmy told the scouts about the night sky, while Mayo told the scouts about the woods and I cooked the fish on Saturday nights [for the adults]. The scouts cooked their own food.”
Years later, Mayo took a cue from a famous carpenter and would be a driving force for establishing a chapter of Habitat for Humanity in Bainbridge. After that, he took what he learned from building houses and became an expert at building wheelchair ramps for houses throughout southwest Georgia. Mayo would then go on to write books about the cemeteries of Decatur County, the turpentine industry, and the shade tobacco business. A demand still exists for these books today. He would write a series of articles for the local newspaper about the sawmills that were or are still located in Decatur County.
Mayo was a pioneer in controlled burning in South Georgia and North Florida. While he was constantly threatened with litigation from surrounding landowners, Mayo thumbed his nose at them and Smokey the Bear as well, as he set the woods on fire. He asked Herbert Stoddard to come over from Thomasville and, after a lunch prepared by his wife, Stoddard and Mayo spent the cool afternoons setting fire. Mayo told anybody who would listen, “Sooner or later, your woods are going to catch on fire; it might be a good idea to be standing there when they do.” He was right. In the 1960s, when Stoddard’s health began to fail, Mayo worked with his friend, classmate, and Stoddard’s protégé, Leon Neel from Thomasville, and together they moved Stoddard’s approach to fire forward and the woods are still set on fire to this day. Each winter, columns of smoke rise all over South Georgia and North Florida as testaments to Mayo’s wisdom, his unwavering foresight, and his friendship with Leon. Sometimes Mayo wondered out loud: “Have they not tried just a little controlled burning out west?” Mayo and Leon forever spoke well of each other.
His most understated project was probably when he interviewed the local veterans of World War II. As many as he could, Mayo tracked them down, put them in front of a camera and interviewed them about their experiences while they were in the military. These videos are available for viewing at the public library in Bainbridge and the Internet as well.
Sometime in the late 1980s, Mayo started a Thanksgiving Day meal. After a rocky first couple of years, he finally got the business model right. He realized he needed to send meals out to the people instead of asking the people to come to a fellowship hall. Since then over 400 meals go out each Thanksgiving morning to people who would otherwise do with less or do with nothing. For many years Mayo remained anonymous as he quietly worked the plates and the food while organizing a mass of volunteers with military precision.
Mayo had a unique experience while growing up. He had both of his grandmothers in the house with him and as a teenager he actually shared a bathroom with one of his grandmothers. Neither grandmother could drive and one of his grandmothers, Mama Jean, was a Methodist, while the other, Mama Dance, was a Baptist. So on Sunday mornings he would drive his grandmothers to each grandmother’s church and pick them up at the appointed time. Mama Dance’s father was a Baptist preacher and his name, John Levi Underwood, is forever memorialized in a window on the Shotwell Street side at First Baptist in Bainbridge, so Mama Dance was loyal to the Baptist church until she died. Both of his grandmothers got along with each other; Mama Jean stayed in the kitchen cooking, she had run a boarding house and fed hobos from her back porch in Albany during the depression, while Mama Dance worked in her yard at her home in Cyrene. As Mayo noticed, “As long as one of my grandmothers stayed in the kitchen and the other grandmother stayed in the yard, they got along really well.” Mama Dance’s camellias and azaleas are still blooming in Cyrene and Mama Jean’s recipes are still used in the family.
Mayo is survived by his wife of 45 years, Carolyn Louise Holder Livingston; his sons, George Mayo Livingston III (Buz) and his wife, Susan, of Santa Rosa Beach, FL, Joseph Laslie Livingston and his wife, Jenny, of Bainbridge, Winfield Charles Livingston of Bainbridge, Scott Harrison Kester and his wife, Tracy, of Smyrna, GA and Christie Louise Kester of Tallahassee, FL; his grandchildren, Jim Livingston and his wife, Stephanie, of Atlanta, GA, Blair Lucas and her husband, Michael, of Houston, TX, Fraser Livingston and his wife, Tiffany, of Starkville, MS, Addie Pray Livingston of Atlanta, GA, Townsend Livingston and Mayo Livingston of Bainbridge, Caroline Kester of Atlanta, GA, Jack Kester and Henry Kester of Smyrna, GA, Jessica Ritter of Colorado Springs, CO, and Ian Ritter of Tallahassee, FL; his great-granddaughters, Susannah and Charlotte Lucas of Houston, TX and Laslie Livingston of Starkville, MS; and his one first cousin Anne Livingston Cole and her husband, Lester, of Montezuma, GA.
Mayo is further survived by a host of Laslie nieces, nephews, and in-laws scattered from Colorado to New York to Louisiana to Florida to Georgia to Virginia to Mississippi all drawn together because of love, time and an old tobacco farm down a red clay road outside of Attapulgus; they will always think well of their Uncle Mayo, or just Mayo. It’s truly too many to list each one. He loved you all and you know who you are. If the bull-bats are flying, you’ll know what to do.
Mayo’s survivors also include a feast and family of friends with whom he built houses and ramps together, fed people together, traveled together, ate good food together, drank good drink together, swapped stories together, agreed and disagreed together, walked the woods together, hunted the woods and ponds together, enjoyed good times together, grieved together, rejoiced together, danced together, sang together, thought good thoughts together, loved together, and hugged each other. Take your pick where you fall in, you know who you are. If the sun is over the yardarm, you’ll know what to do.
Mayo’s hug and handshake will never be forgotten and will be forever cherished.
All of his survivors and friends were witnesses to a life well lived, a life well shared, and a life well loved; his survivors and friends know how fortunate they are for just having Mayo as a part of their lives.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 18 years, Kate Joan Laslie Livingston, the mother of his sons; his parents; his parents-in-law, Joseph Taylor Laslie and Annie Eugenia Berry Laslie, and Arthur Thomas Holder and Hilda Louise Martin Holder; his brothers-in-law, Lt. Joseph Taylor Laslie, Jr. USMCR, Dixon Sylvester Woodward of Quincy (Go Gators), Edward Bailey Brinson of Monticello, FL (Go Noles), and Robert Marshall Grodner, Ph.D.; his sister-in-law, Mary Lula Laslie Grodner, Ph.D. of Baton Rouge, LA (Geaux Tigers); and his first cousins, Merle Helen Hodges Sparkman of Charleston, SC, Elizabeth Ann Hodges (Betty) of Atlanta, and James Stuart Hodges (Jimbo) of Bainbridge.
A private memorial service will be held at First United Methodist Church with Rev. Melissa Traver officiating. Interment will be at Oak City Cemetery. Due to the ongoing concerns regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, those attending are asked to maintain the recommended safe social distancing of six feet and wear protective masks in accordance with the State of Georgia guidelines.
Online visitors may sign the guest register at www.iveyfuneral.com. The family requests you give to the charity of your choice. A 501 (c) (3) charity has been established to perpetuate the G. Mayo Livingston, Jr. Thanksgiving Day Dinner. Gifts may be mailed to P. O. Box 1767, Bainbridge, GA 39818.