June 29, 2020 10:16:16 AM
By Heather Ford
If you have lived in Columbus for any length of time, you know the name Charleigh Ford. Maybe you have driven out to the Industrial Park and have seen the funny looking name on the road sign and wondered about him. Perhaps you served with him on one of the many civic or church boards in which he was a member or leader. Maybe you even ate lunch with him at Kiwanis meetings or prayed with him during Thursday morning Emmaus meetings. Some of you may have even grown up with him in this great town. There were a myriad of ways for someone to know Charleigh Ford in Columbus, and to know him was to love him.
I was blessed to get to know him in a deeper way than most. He was my father-in-law for twenty three years. He was the backbone of the Ford family and one of the best men I have ever known. On Saturday, Charleigh passed away due to complications with COVID-19 and dementia.
If you knew Charleigh well, you knew he was a storyteller. There were so many stories shared over meals at his and Lillajo's house that kept us laughing and all the while wondering if he was embellishing them for our benefit.
He would tell of his days on 7th Street, running with the other boys who lived in that area. They would ride their bikes on the dirt hills that would become Bluecutt Road and make the youngest kid dress in a homemade bomb suit so that they could light cherry bombs in empty fields. When he got ready to sell his childhood home, there was still a clubhouse that had "No Girls Allowed!" spray-painted on it. He told us of adventures he had as a paperboy. Once he even claimed to have saved Mr. Harvey Siefert's house from burning down and earned a $20 tip.
Often, he talked of his days at Lee High, playing football and running track. He said that the first play of every football game was the "43 Whoop-Around," done in an effort for players to work out the jitters. He even still bore the swollen knuckle where Buddy Godfrey stepped on it and broke it during practice.
During his years at MSU, he and his friends would stand where the RiverHill Chevron is now and hitch rides back to school. Sometimes that would not always work out, and on more than one occasion, they ended up riding with someone who had "been in the hooch," which would make the ride back a little more exciting than they cared for. During this time, he spent many nights in Columbus, eating at Bob's while courting the W girl who would later become his wife.
After college, a wedding, and a slight deferment for the birth of his first son, Charleigh headed to Vietnam for a year. His stories from there made it seem more like an episode of M.A.S.H. than an actual battleground. He told us of the time he caught the barrack's housekeeper drinking out of the communal water jug, and he told us about a monkey that a group of men took from the jungle, dressed in a tiny flight suit, and kept as a pet on base. All during his time of deployment, he and Lillajo wrote letters to each other every day. I have had the opportunity to read many of them, and they have given me insight into the scared, young couple they were. Reading them always made me wonder how I would have handled something like that.
After the war, Charleigh found his place in the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development business. He lived and worked in Brookhaven for many years, and then thankfully came back to his hometown where he put an indelible mark on Lowndes County. Even after his retirement, he was helping Columbus in any way he could. I remember our family beach trip the summer after he retired. He kept getting and making phone calls. I finally asked what was happening, and he explained that The LINK was trying to buy some land and that one man was still holding out. Even during our vacation, Charleigh was able to discuss with the individual the options and explain why it was so important for the future of Lowndes County to have the land. It was no surprise that by the end of the week, the man agreed to sell based on the logical insight and persuasion offered by Charleigh.
Charleigh's family was his pride and joy, and there was literally nothing he would not do for us. When his two sons gave him grandkids, he was complete. He was so devoted to them that the ladies at the FUMC daycare finally had to tell him to stop coming to look through the window at his granddaughter since it seemed to make her upset when he would leave. When the grandkids were old enough to spend the night away from home, he loved to have all of them over so he could take them to McDonald's for pancakes in the morning. Even when he took all of us to the beach every year, he always treated the kids to whatever they wanted. He also loved taking them to MSU games, although the tailgating was his favorite part. After his retirement, he became my children's chauffeur, getting the weekly schedule and taking them where they needed to go.
Charleigh Ford's legacy will live forever in Columbus, which is how it should be, and even though we are sad at his passing from this home, we are sure of his eternal home. It is now my family's job to live up to that legacy in all that we do.
Heather Ford is a Columbus resident and elementary school teacher.
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