Publisher’s Note: The staff of The Clarke County Tribune chose Robert Donald for Person of the Year shortly after Thanksgiving. On Tuesday, December 28, 2021, Robert passed away at Anderson’s Hospital with his family by his side. He was loved by this community, his family and friends. These memories given by his loved ones are a testament to his character, and I hope this will comfort them in the days to come. The Tribune staff will miss his presence on Main Street.
“Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering;/Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye./And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness./ And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful” (Colossians 3:12-15 KJV).
If anyone in Clarke County has been able to encompass all the fruits of the spirit, it is Robert Donald. He has done a tremendous amount for the community and all those around him, yet he is humble and doesn’t do anything to receive accolades from others.
“My brother is the most caring person I know. He truly loves his family, friends, and Quitman,” stated his sister, Kathy Watkins. “He is always thinking of things that need to be done, from picking up trash to mowing yards for his neighbors. He has picked up so many dogs from the river bridge that people throw out and carried them home or to the camp. He can’t stand to see anything suffering.”
In the past, Robert was known to do everything he could do to help his community by holding a political office, and he has made sure to do a little volunteer work through the fire department as well.
“He and I spent several years together. He was alderman while I was mayor. He always put the people first. He supported me and the people of this town. He has always kept Main Street clean, as well as the boat ramp, and kept up the flags on the courthouse lawn, all on his own,” informed Tommy Blackburn, his good friend and a former mayor. “He has also been a long time member of the Quitman Volunteer Fire Department.”
He isn’t afraid of working hard and has been known to lend a helping hand, even after natural disasters wreak havoc to the city.
“He told me that when Katrina hit all the awnings and everything were down on the street, so he brought his tractor in and pushed everything together down the street so it could be taken up easier,” said Holly Waddell, his employee.
While it isn’t difficult to find where he actively does things in the county to help the community, Robert is very well known for being kind and loving to everyone. No matter who it is, he always treats those he meets as if they were his own family. His love and kindness makes more of an impact on others than he even realizes.
“He treats everybody like they’re his family. I’ve known him ever since I was a kid, and he’s always treated people like they’re his family. I’ve never seen him say anything bad about anybody. He’s just always been Robert bouncing around Quitman, riding his motorcycle or Jeeps. Once, I was looking for a top to go on my Jeep, and Robert gave me a top. He’s just that person and so giving,” declared Judge Tobey Bartee. “The most touching thing he’s done for me was him and daddy riding in the Christmas parade. It just did something for daddy for Robert to ask him to drive his truck. It started out with daddy working on Robert’s truck. He had called daddy, and he and I went over there. Daddy ended up fixing it. Robert ended up messaging me saying that he was thinking about asking daddy to drive him in the parade.”
The working environment he has created at his State Farm office is amazing. His employees believe he is the best boss they’ve ever had, and they are able to see just how much he does for the surrounding community.
“I’ve worked with him for 37 years in the office. He’s been really good to work for. It’s been like working with family. I’ve just really enjoyed being here for the last 37 years and don’t think I could’ve worked for anybody else that’s been as good to me as he has. He’s just really been a blessing in my life, my children, and the community because he has done so much for so many people over the years,” proclaimed Stephanie Glass. “He’s done a lot for the community. There were days that he would be out at four in the morning cleaning the street of Main Street by picking up trash. He would put the flags out at the courthouse and up and down our street. He just did a lot of things for the town.”
He has such an amazing work environment that everyone is more like family instead of a traditional situation where people just show up to work and leave each day. Everyone truly enjoys spending time together and cares for each other, on and off the clock.
“We’ve done family things together. They’re like part of my family, and I feel like I’m part of theirs. We’ve done river trips together and cookouts together. We’ve had some really good trips to Doby’s Bluff on the river. We’ve had a lot of cookouts at his camps. He’d play his guitar and build a fire. Everything we’ve ever done has always been very pleasant and fun. My oldest daughter went on some of the State Farm trips and family vacations with him and his family. My kids grew up here just like part of his family,” declared Stephanie. “It’s really special to be close enough where you work that you are like family. My husband told me I’ve spent more time with Robert than I have him over 37 years. He’d always call me his work spouse since I was always here with him during the day.”
Robert is very family oriented, and he loves being able to spend time with his own family. Even though he and his wife, Nancy, are opposites of each other, their sweet natures have allowed them to have the best relationship over the years.
"Robert’s mother came in the dental office one day and asked if I was dating anyone. I loved his mother because she was the sweetest person I had ever met, and I told her no not really. She told me she had a son she wanted me to meet and I agreed. I met Robert, and that was it. Robert and I got married on June 30, 1984, and we had our two children that we could not be more proud of. We’ve had a very blessed life. We’ve worked hard at it, but we’ve had a blessed life,” Nancy reminisced. “He’s always been sweet and fun. We’re as opposite as day and night and have nothing in common. Robert likes outside, and I don’t like all the outside stuff. I’m kind of bossy, and Robert’s not. I like to travel, and Robert hates to travel. Robert loves Clarke County and thinks if he leaves here then the town will shut down. He just has to be here because he loves it so much.”
Some of the best times he’s had involves the moments he has been able to spend with his family. His unselfish spirit is clearly shown through the love he has for his family as well.
“Our favorite things we’ve done are just the times we’ve had with our children. We’ve really enjoyed being parents together. We just had a lot of fun being with our kids; our kids were everywhere, so we were everywhere with them. All the times Robert went to the river, I’d go to the river with him. We’d take the kids and enjoy them over there. That was Robert’s thing. I never liked going to the river, but that’s what he liked doing, so I would do it. The kids loved it,” recalled Nancy. “Robert has always tried to make us happy and would do anything he could to make us happy. He may fuss and grumble about it, but he has always made sure we were okay and got what we wanted and needed. I’ve never seen him be dishonest. In everything he’s ever done or said, he’s always had a good heart. He’s always thought about everybody else instead of just thinking about himself. He’s just so unselfish and cares for everybody.”
His children have always witnessed his generosity and loving spirit, and they feel blessed to have him for a father. His example for how to treat others and family is something that they admire and have learned from over the years.
“My daddy is the most loving and generous man I know. It has been such a blessing to be able to call him mine,” proclaimed his daughter, Emma Kate Williams. “He has run a successful business in the City of Quitman, and always is willing to help anyone in need. He loves his grandchildren more than anything in this world, and I am so thankful they have had a man like my daddy to look up to.”
Robert loves to be able to spend time with each of his grandchildren and teach them different things. He has even taught his grandson, Nolan, how to cook cornbread and fish on the river.
Aside from spending as much time on outside and on the river as he can in his spare time, Robert has another talent that he has graciously used in the community: playing the guitar.
“He has a nice collection of guitars because he’s played the guitar since he was a young boy. His grandma bought him a guitar when he was a little boy because he was somewhat interested. He taught himself how to play the guitar, and it’s grown over the years,” described Nancy. “Robert is not a professional guitarist, but he has spent thousands and thousands of hours on the guitar. He’d sit up at night and just play for hours and hours. He’d always play if we had a little program at the church or schools or something.”
His years of playing have sparked a love for music in his own children.
“His musical gift has always been one I admired,” stated Emma Kate. “If you have never had the privilege to hear him sing, play guitar, and harmonica, you have really missed a true talent. My love for music was instilled in me by my daddy.”
He has never really stayed still and loves to do things. One of his favorite things to do is simply help take of different areas to keep them nice.
“Robert loves keeping stuff up. Over by the river, he loves keeping the grass cut and taking care of the river. It looked like a city park most of the time over there because he kept it so pretty,” informed Nancy. “He loves taking care of our yard. He loves taking care of downtown. He just loves to fix things and make sure everything looks pretty.”
While Robert has recently learned that he has ALS and is having to adjust to drastic changes in life, he still has an optimistic attitude for those around him. He has had to retire from State Farm and doing other things that he has done for years, such as being the treasurer for the Methodist church in Quitman; however, he still demonstrates the same love and compassion he always has and intends to continue to do everything that he can do for as long as he is able.
No matter the circumstances, Robert continues to be a great example to all by portraying meekness, gentleness, love, mercy, thankfulness, and forgiveness.