PONTOTOC – The “Midnight Train to Georgia” pulled into Pontotoc for the 17th annual Bodock Festival on Saturday.
Pontotoc native Jim Weatherly, who wrote the popular song recorded by Gladys Knight & The Pips, was honored with the declaration of an official Jim Weatherly Day in the town he grew up in.
Hundreds of people, including dignitaries Sen. Alan Nunnelee, Sen. Roger Wicker and former University of Mississippi Chancellor Dr. Robert Khayat, paid honor and tribute to whom many in town called a jack-of-all-trades.
Weatherly, an award-winning song-writer, was an All-SEC quarterback for the Rebels from 1962-64. Even though most people remembered him from his pigskin-slinging days or his days as a hit songwriter, some remembered a slightly less polished and much less famous Weatherly.
“I remember Jimmy when he was a little boy,” said 79-year-old Russell Taylor. “He used to sing in the church and he had a good voice at a young age so we knew he’d be in the music business. And I also remember him playing football for Pontotoc High School. He was tough. He could throw the ball the length of the football field. I’m glad today is his day.”
Pontotoc Mayor Jeff Stafford gave Weatherly the key to the city, something that has been done only a few times.
“We are glad to be able to celebrate this day as the official Jim Weatherly Day,” said Stafford. “He has meant a lot to Pontotoc and has gone on to represent our town well. We learned from Tupelo that like Elvis we couldn’t build a fence around him and keep him here so he had to go out and share his gifts with the world. But that midnight train to Georgia started right here in Pontotoc.”
Khayat presented Weatherly with a framed jersey with his famed No. 12 on the back.
“Jim was a great student, a great football player and a great musician,” he said to the crowd. “We are glad he came to Ole Miss.”
Even though he could not attend the ceremony, Gov. Haley Barbour sent a proclamation declaring Aug. 7, 2010, “Jim Weatherly Day.”
Every time Weatherly stepped to the stage to accept an award or gift, the crowd of mostly family and longtime friends cheered and clapped. Emotions ran high for some of the people in the crowd.
Even though she said she didn’t personally know Weatherly, Heather Hendrick said she could feel the love the town had for him.
“This is what small towns are about,” said Hendrick as she dabbed a tear from her eye. “We honor and love our own, especially the ones who’ve gone on to do great things. When you come from a small town, having a famous person from there is a huge deal. Jim Weatherly is a huge deal to us. He is our hero if he is no one else’s.”
After everyone got a chance to share their praises and stories about Weatherly, it was his turn to speak. But for a man who’d written numerous hit songs and played football in front of thousands of fans, the words were hard for him to find.
“Thank you all so much,” said Weatherly as he tried to hold back tears. “Thank you. I loved growing up in Pontotoc. I always think about Pontotoc. It was and is a great place to grow up. I can’t even begin to express how you all have made me feel. This is truly special beyond words.”
Contact Danza Johnson at (662) 678-1583 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
DANZA JOHNSON / NEMS Daily Journal