By John D. Pierce
In recent years I’ve spent a good bit of time visiting daughters (or dawghters, as I call them) at the University of Georgia. [I’ll split the proceeds with any lawyer friend who wants to trademark that term.]
Their tenures at UGA were separated by just one year in which I hauled nothing up or down dorm or apartment stairs, nor rerouted my travel to include regular stops in Athens, Ga. But I’m back to enjoying those stop-in college experiences, which will continue for another three years.
Recently, however, I was back at Georgia Tech in Atlanta where I worked in the early ’90s, and enjoyed wandering around and remembering some great times — including the summer of 1996 when the campus was transformed into Olympic Village. While sports rivalries can be intense (with the greatest intensity among those with the fewest connections to the schools) both are exceptionally fine universities.
At Tech and elsewhere, the name Bobby Dodd is highly regarded. The football stadium at North Avenue and Techwood Drive is named in his honor, as is the national Coach of the Year Award.
His statue on the north side of Bobby Dodd Stadium at Historic Grant Field reminded me of my one brief conversation with the legendary football coach in 1987, a year before his death. He and sportswriter Jack Wilkinson were signing copies of their new book, Dodd’s Luck: The Life and Legend of a Hall of Fame Quarterback and Coach (Golden Coast Publishing).
However, it was a much more obscure book that had struck my interest in talking with the coach. My aunt Edith Nuckolls, my mother’s older sister, was keeper of the family tree. After her death, I was thumbing through her copy of The First Virginia Nuckolls and Kindred, published in 1960.
Among the typical genealogical flow was an entry on page 125, noting that Susan Viola Nuckolls had married Edwin Witten Dodd and among their offspring was: “Robert Lee Dodd, b. Nov. 11, 1908… football coach Ga. Tech…”
The coach and the sportswriter were seated at a table tucked away in the old Rich’s store at Atlanta’s Perimeter Mall and no one else had arrived when I bought a copy of Dodd’s Luck and sought their signatures.
“Recently, I learned that we came out of the same family tree,” I mentioned to Coach Dodd, who seemed totally uninterested in my comment. So I paused and said nothing else while he scribbled a personal note and his name in the front of the book.
As he handed the book to his co-author, I added: “My mother was a Nuckolls…”
Coach Dodd stood quickly and said, “My mother was a Nuckolls too! Where are you from?”
In a moment’s time we traced our lineages back to James Nuckolls who arrived in Virginia from England in the 17th century. Wilkinson noted that this ancestor and others are mentioned in the early part of the book — revealing a bit about who takes the most responsibility in such co-writing ventures.
That 1960 family history by Bertha Nuckolls makes repeated references to an early volume titled Pioneer Settlers of Grayson County, Virginia by Benjamin Floyd Nuckolls of Galax, Va. (where Coach Dodd’s family lived until moving to Kingsport, Tenn.) And, oddly, that old book has an Athens connection for me.
Once, long before my daughters “committed to the G,” I was headed to Athens to speak to the First Baptist Church there. After passing through scenic Madison, Ga., I made a pit stop at a used bookstore. Glancing at a large case filled with old books, I couldn’t believe my eyes as they landed on an original copy of that 1914 history of kindred Virginians.
The future football star at the University of Tennessee and national championship coach at Georgia Tech was but a child when that book was published. He is identified in the family tree with one word: “Robert.”
Finding that book so far from Virginia and hidden among scores of others was a real treat for me in exploring my family roots.
I’ll call it “Nuckolls’ luck.”
By the way, that would be a well-known phrase, especially among the Yellow Jackets faithful of old, if Coach Dodd and I had been given the surnames of those who actually gave us birth.