The Way We Were: George Stallings, Jr.

The Way We Were: George Stallings, Jr.
George and his wife, Martha, of 23 years
George B. Stallings, Jr. in uniform

George B. Stallings, Jr. in uniform

Long-time Venetia resident George B. Stallings, Jr., who will join the ranks of centenarians on May 12, credits his longevity to strong Biblical beliefs. “I believe if you live a clean, godly life, you get a lot of years! I also believe in having morals,” said Stallings.

The lack of morality, according to Stallings, is why people are impacted by wrong ideas, especially students. “I believe with all that’s going in schools, particularly the shootings, it’s because education is being demoralized…we’ve forgotten the real purpose. Education involves parents and schools. Children must be taught the difference between right and wrong, starting in the home, and should be backed up by the school.”

Stallings remembers his days in school as far back as the third grade at West Riverside Elementary when he and his family moved in 1927 from Atlantic Beach to Herschel Street in Avondale. He was nine years old. “Atlantic Boulevard was a two-lane, brick road to Jacksonville. Between the two points, there was one gas station where you could get six gallons of gas for one dollar. There was only the Acosta Bridge and a ferry boat connecting the Southside to the foot of Main Street. About 400 people lived in Atlantic Beach and about 50,000 people in Jacksonville.”

Stallings said on Saturday mornings he and a friend would catch the streetcar for five cents to the Riverside Theatre (now Sun-Ray Cinema) in 5 Points “for great fun. And it was close to home.”

“For the longest time, we didn’t own a television set and listened to radio programs, mostly comedies,” he said. “Our first set, an RCA, blew up in the middle of the World Series! My father replaced it but we still missed the end of the game.”

Stallings doesn’t own a television but believes he is “very connected. I still have my first computer, an Apple IIE, I purchased in 1984; it may be worth something one day. I have an iPhone that I take pictures with and I research various topics on my Toshiba, especially those related to finance. I email but I usually don’t post, but sometimes I look to see what others are doing.”

He’s also an avid reader…that is, an avid Kindle reader. “The Kindle is a great invention! I like exciting books and historical books. One of my favorite authors is Nelson DeMille; he always has something clever to say.”

George and Martha during engagement in 1995

George and Martha during engagement in 1995

Stallings’ day starts around 8:30 in the morning with Bible study, which has been a part of his life throughout elementary school, John Gorrie Junior High, and at The Bolles School. He was recently given a tour of The Bolles School, which he shared happily that he became a student in its second year of existence. “They say I’m the oldest living alumni but I think I may be in the top five percent of the oldest living alumni,” Stallings laughed. “The school has certainly grown. I could have easily gotten lost if I were by myself!”

After Bible study, reading the Bible simultaneously in English and in French, Stallings said he makes a mental list of the day’s schedule, which includes visiting with his third wife, 96-year-old Martha, who is under the care of an assisted living memory facility. He remembers meeting Martha in elementary school and, although they married different people, they remained friends over the years. After the deaths of their spouses, George and Martha married 23 years ago. He blushed as he recalled their honeymoon at the Cloister at Sea Island.

Stallings and his first wife, Marguerite Hamilton, a war widow, were married in 1946 and together raised three daughters, Ann, married to Larry Smith; Margo, married to Jack Fraleigh, and Debbie, married to Mike Crumpler. Stallings has 10 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.

During the day, he spends time with his daughter, Margo Fraleigh, who lives a few doors down from him in the Southpointe Ortega Condos. “Daddy has lived a fascinating life. He practiced law for 38 years after graduating in 1949 from the University of Florida. He represented Duval in the Florida House of Representatives [1959-1966] and served in the 20th District [1967-1968]. While in the legislature, Daddy was chosen to head the Judiciary Committee. Upon his retirement, he became general counsel to the Florida Retail Federation and served as their lobbyist for 13 years,” Fraleigh said.

George Stallings with his discharge papers

George Stallings with his discharge papers

But before his political career, Stallings had to put his military time in. After graduating from The Bolles School, Stallings enrolled at the University of Virginia. “I was an only child and my mother was originally from Culpepper, Virginia. That’s how I ended up at UVA. During my senior year, I was drafted. I always strived to be patriotic and knew that my strength would not be as a foot soldier but as a flyer because I already had my pilot license.”

With very few credit hours left, Stallings put his education on hold, enlisted in the Army Air Corps at MacDill [Tampa], and became a commissioned officer after nine months of training. Because Stallings graduated in the top 10 percent, he was selected as a flight instructor which led to additional training in Alabama to teach pilots to fly the B-24 bomber. “That was Nov. 1, 1941. I taught American and British cadets, some of whom had never driven an automobile, how to fly airplanes.”

Stallings recalled at one point during training, he had to “bail out of the plane to avoid a mid-air collision. I climbed out on the wing and dived into the wild blue yonder!”

However, one history-making event that stands out in Stallings’ mind is the attack on Pearl Harbor, which ushered the United States into WWII. “I was in Alabama on the flight line when we received the news. We were expecting something to happen because we had bad relations with Japan; but not an all-out attack on a Sunday morning. We should have been prepared.”

Stallings said that there were theories as to why the United States had been caught unaware, but he always had his own beliefs. More than 2,300 Americans were killed that day.

“As we celebrate Memorial Day, we need to give it more than a cursory nod but a serious thought,” he said. “Let’s not forget about the true meaning – a celebration of the bravery of the many thousands who died for our freedom.”

George B. Stallings, Jr., we salute you and thank you for your service. Happy 100th birthday!

By Phyllis Bell-Davis
Resident Community News

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