By Nowell Briscoe


Merriam-Webster defines the term “ambassador” as “an authorized representative or messenger.”   So in such terms a “goodwill ambassador” would be a representative or messenger who promotes or spreads goodwill to others.

Every city or town has a person or persons who have the best interests of their city always in mind, wanting to showcase and promote the best their community can offer to others.

For many years Monroe was fortunate in having such a leader in civic and community endeavors, one who loved his town so much that he went over and above the call to let folks outside our hamlet know what a great city it was and even going so far as to coerce folks and businesses to move here.

This man could almost be called a “native” in that he was born and reared in Jersey, Ga., but once he set foot on Monroe soil, he was bound and determined to see his city be the best it could during his lifetime and even after he was gone.  The name John Lescar McGarity still rings with a mighty force in Monroe because of his efforts to ensure our town was “the place to be.”  In today’s terminology, if there was ever a “mover and shaker” for Monroe, J. L. McGarity was the one.

Back in 1879, Jersey was probably a bit smaller than it is now, but when Joseph A. and Eudora Abercrombie McGarity welcomed their new son on September 2nd, I wonder if they had any inkling of the influence their son would have during his lifetime.

Mr. McGarity attended the Jersey schools and then entered Emory College which was located at Oxford, Ga.  Upon his graduation in 1900, he returned back to Jersey and worked for the Bank of Jersey for several years before going into business with his brother, Bob and Josiah Blasingame opening a general store.  The business was known as Blasingame & McGarity.

J. L. McGarity found the perfect companion for the road he set for his life when he married Miss Jamie Caldwell of Knoxville, Tennessee. They were married in Fountain City, near Knoxville in April 1906 and soon began raising a family which included daughter Ione, who died when she was four years old, and sons Lescar Caldwell and Carson McGarity.

In 1918 the family moved to Monroe and Mr. McGarity operated an automobile agency selling at various times such cars as the Maxwell, Chalmers, Moon, National and Oakland. 

Ben Thompson of Madison had been selling Ford automobiles in Monroe for some time and in 1921 Mr. McGarity purchased the business and began The J. L. McGarity Company, continuing to sell the Ford line of automobiles. The first location for the business was in the site which formerly housed the Monroe Recreation Parlor.  The company then moved to the location where Murray Motor Company operated and the third home for the company was back to Broad Street with the final location on East Spring Street. As traveling and recruiting businesses to come to Monroe took Mr. McGarity away from the company for long periods of time, he passed along the business to son Caldwell in the 40’s. Grandson Michael joined the dealership in 1970 and assumed the presidency in 1985.  When the company was sold to Carey Paul Ford in 2003, it was the second oldest Ford dealership in Georgia and in the top 50 oldest in the country.

J. L. McGarity joined the Methodist Church as a child in Jersey which led to an exemplary life of Christian service.  He joined the Monroe First Methodist Church upon his arrival in Monroe and became active with the board of stewards, serving many years on the board and in the role as president.  He also served his church as superintendent of the Sunday school department along with teaching the men’s Bible Class. 

He was also a charter member of the Monroe Kiwanis Club, serving as president and director of the club.  Several years prior to his death he was elected as lieutenant governor of the 7th Kiwanis Division.

He was named District Supervisor of the Upper Ocmulgee Soil Conservation District in 1952 and gave of his time and energies in helping farmers see the need to preserve the rich assets of soil and water on their property.

In 1954 Mr. McGarity was named manager and president of the Monroe-Walton County Chamber of Commerce, a position he held until 1956 a year before his death.  The Monroe Rotary Club named him “Monroe’s Man of the Year” in 1954 in recognition for all of his service to his community.  This announcement was made at the Rotary Ladies Night gathering on February 10, 1954 which also celebrated the 50th anniversary of Rotary International.  The presentation of the award was made by club president Jim Wright and cited Mr. McGarity for being instrumental in securing four new industrial plants for the city.

 He was elected president of the Georgia Association of Soil Conservation District Supervisors in December of 1955. 

Having spent most of his life selling and not in a small way, it is no wonder that Atlanta Journal reporter Margaret Shannon found  the perfect subject for her column in 1955 which was titled: “He Knows How to Sell Monroe”.  She began her article in saying, “Mr. J. L. McGarity does not hunt….with a gun that is.  He seems to go after industries with a bird-dog instinct.  He can sense even in which of Atlanta’s several dozen hostelries a prospective manufacturer may be spending the night.”  She went on to describe how determined Mr. McGarity was when it came to discussing with potential businesses how wonderful Monroe would be to begin operations in his town.

Ms. Shannon described how Mr. McGarity operates:  “He tells folks that Monroe doesn’t offer special concessions to attract industries, but it lets out the stops on its natural advantages, such as what a fine place it is to live.  When one of the prospects mentioned that his wife had to like whatever town was chosen for his new plant, Mr. McGarity proceeded to get the presidents of the local women’s clubs, the preachers and other nice folks to write her about the marvels of Monroe.  ‘After all,’ he said, ‘the town has been called “the Cradle of Governor’s” and at last count had given Georgia four.’”

She pointed out how Mr. McGarity had spent his life selling and it was a rather happy thing that he was able to turn his talents now to benefit the community.  In the span of a year and a half, his efforts saw seven companies locate to Monroe which employed more than 1200 workers whose combined payrolls exceeded the value of the Monroe cotton crop from several years prior which helped people realize Monroe was more than just a cotton town. Her column ended with a quote from the man himself: “The secret of selling is to love people. I love them.  After talking to them a while, I can find something in them I would like to emulate.”

As testament to his love of travel, I recently found in my father’s papers a handwritten letter to him from Mr. McGarity written in 1951 postmarked July 11 from Skagway, Alaska. He enclosed a gift in his letter, a cotton bloom from one of the cotton fields he visited on his trip. I am amazed the bloom has survived in such good fashion after 63 years!

Monroe grieved heavily on March 27th 1957 when word spread its best known and beloved advocates for the city had died.  John Lescar McGarity’s exciting life of “Messenger & Advocate of Monroe” came to an end after a year of declining health.

Largely attended and impressive funeral services were held at the Monroe First Methodist Church on March 29th with Rev. Ralph Shea officiating with interment at his native Jersey Methodist Church cemetery.

In 1968 son Caldwell established through the Chamber of Commerce an annual award called the J. L. McGarity Citizenship Award.  It is the oldest and most prestigious award the group gives and is awarded to one person who most exemplifies the leadership, initiative, drive, time and love of public service in helping Walton County continue as a prosperous, growing and welcoming  community. To date 59 citizens have been recognized for their civic endeavors.

Monroe owes a large debt of gratitude to J. L. McGarity for the love, appreciation and vision he saw for his town and the lengths he went in order to ensure Monroe and Walton County would continue to prosper long after he was gone.  I think the title “Monroe’s Goodwill Ambassador” would have been appropriate for his tombstone for giving so much of his life to the betterment of the city he called home.

(Grateful appreciation is extended to Michael McGarity for providing additional information to the writer about his grandfather)