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December 24, 2013

O. L. Luke, Jr

OCILLA — O. L. Luke, Jr., lovingly called PaPa by his Grand and Great-Grandchildren, went home to be with his Lord and Saviour Saturday, December 14, 2013. He was 91 years old.

Mr. Luke was born February 22, 1922 to Oscar Lamar Luke and Odessa Tanner Luke of the Lax Community in Coffee County, Georgia. He was preceded in death by his loving wife of 66 years, Eloise Royal Luke, his parents, a brother, Aubrey Luke, and two half-sisters Thelma Luke Spivey and Myrtle Luke Downing.

Having grown up during the depression, Mr. Luke was well acquainted with hard times. He had vivid memories of plowing fields behind mules and reading Gone with the Wind while curing barns of tobacco. He always said that it was through the good Lord’s providence that the Irwin County school bus passed closer to his home than the Coffee County one. Why? So that he could attend Ocilla High School where he met the love of his life, Dorothy Eloise Royal. There he played basketball and graduated third in his class of 1939. He often said he would have been valedictorian if he hadn’t followed Eloise into Latin class.

O. L. and Eloise were married on August 22, 1942 by her uncle, Judge Jimmy Whitley. The wedding took place in the Royal log home located in the Frank Community. Part of their future had been predetermined on Sunday, December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On September 21, 1942, Mr. Luke enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Moody Field in Valdosta. During his flight training, Eloise followed him to Arkansas, Utah, and Texas. He received his wings and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant on December 5, 1943.

After training as a B-24 bomber pilot, Mr. Luke was dispatched to India where he fought in the Pacific Theater. There he flew twenty-four missions, some of which involved flying the “hump” over the Himalaya Mountains and carrying gasoline to Lieutenant General Claire Lee Chennault’s Flying Tigers in China.

For his service Mr. Luke was awarded an Asiatic-Pacific-Theater Medal with two Bronze Stars, a Distinguished Flying Cross, and an Air Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster. He was honorably discharged from active duty as a First Lieutenant on August 7, 1945. Recalling his war years, O. L. frequently exclaimed, “I can’t believe they taught a twenty-year-old farm boy, whose only view of the world had been the rear of mule, to fly.”

Following the war, Mr. Luke returned to Irwin County where he began his civilian life operating a coffee pot sawmill and working as a clerk in the post office. He signed on as a State Farm Insurance agent September 1, 1947 and in the early ‘50s, expanded into the gasoline and fuel oil business, building Luke Service Station on North Irwin Avenue. Later, he became a rural mail carrier on a Wray, Georgia route.

Delivering letters and packages in his red Volkswagen bug, Mr. Luke relished listening to the radio, especially the Paul Harvey Breakfast Club show. He also left candy for children and delivered medicine to elderly patrons who couldn’t drive to town to have their prescriptions filled. In return, he often found a bucket of blackberries or sack of fresh vegetables beside mailboxes.

A man of many talents, Mr. Luke continued to expand his businesses. He opened Luke Oil and Fertilizer Co. in 1959 and in 1962, when he couldn’t get around peanut-loaded trucks backlogged on Highway 129, he decided to add Luke Brothers Peanut and Grain Co. It became the biggest individual-owned peanut buying operation of its kind in South Georgia.

In 1987, Mr. Luke received the Business Leadership Award presented by the Irwin County Chamber of Commerce.  Ten years later, he was honored during the 37th annual Georgia Sweet Potato Festival with the J. E. Leger Agribusiness Award.  An early trustee of Birdwood Primitive Baptist College in Thomasville, the institution, now Thomas University, awarded him with the school’s 50 Year Service Medal . And before his death, Mr. Luke was recognized by State Farm as one of the longest-serving agents in the nation.  Mr. Luke always said, “God has been good to me!” Throughout his life, he credited the Lord, farmers, employees, friends, and family for his business success and considered Irwin County “the garden spot of the world.”

Heaven on Earth for Mr. Luke was Frank Primitive Baptist Church. He joined March 4, 1948 and was ordained a deacon August 11, 1967. A project dear to his heart was helping convert the old Paulk family burial ground into a cemetery for Frank Church members and community residents.

Perhaps cemeteries were of historical interest because Mr. Luke was asked to sing at so many funerals. Marrying into the Royal family, one known for gospel song, Mr. Luke quickly developed his musical talent. At first he soloed and dueted with Eloise at church services and funerals. Later he helped form and sang lead with the Irwin County Quartet, consisting of Dan Gray (first tenor), Jackie Lee Clark (baritone), Seymour Clark (bass), and S. A. Parrish (pianist). Memories of this quartet were among his fondest. For years, he also phoned people on special occasions to crone Happy Birthday or Happy Anniversary.

Survivors include a sister Hazel Luke McCormack of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., his children, Karen Luke Jackson of Hendersonville, N.C., Janis Luke Roberts and beloved son-in-law Oscar of Ocilla, Royal Luke and Tammy of Anthony, Fla.; his nine grandchildren, Scott Roberts of Bainbridge, Kerri Jackson Pelz and Mike of Hendersonville, NC, Luke Roberts and Jaime of Ocilla, Jonathan Jackson of Hendersonville, N.C., Rhett Roberts of Ocilla, GA, Leigh Luke, Philip Luke and Benja, Jared Luke, and Lindy Luke, and their mother, Dana, all of Ocilla, and his 13 great-grandchildren, Jackson Pelz, Riley Roberts, Alison Roberts, Kaia Pelz, Lainey Roberts, Eli Roberts, Emily Kade Roberts, Auden Pelz, Heidi Luke, Ty Roberts, twins Ella and Lana Roberts, and Maci Luke; and an extended family of nieces, nephews, and cousins.

A celebration of thanksgiving for the life of O. L. Luke Jr. was held on Tuesday, December 17, 2013 at Frank Primitive Baptist Church in Ocilla. His grandchildren had the honor of serving as their PaPa’s pallbearers. Honorary Pallbearers were the Deacons of Frank Church, Robert Fain, Alan Martin, Warren Mixon, Alan Moore, Oscar Roberts, and Walter Sumner. Serving also as Honorary Pallbearers will be Ben Benford, J. M. Broome, Larry Busbin, Marvin Dix, Kermit Elliott, Walt Gordon, Herman Griffin, Wayne Hilliard, Henry Hall, Charles Massey, Jack Paulk, Don Pearson, Hugh Roberts, Joe Royal, Seaborn Royal, Elliotte Tucker, and Kaylon Whitley. Elder Edward McIntyre will officiate.  Music will be provided by the Frank Church Choir, Luke Roberts, Wayne and Cindy Hilliard, and Gloria Brown. Andi McWhorter will serve as pianist.

This WWII Veteran received Military Honors from a grateful nation and was laid to rest until the coming of our Lord, Jesus Christ, at Frank Church Cemetery in Irwin County.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be sent to: Frank Church Cemetery Fund, ℅ Mr. Warren Mixon, P. O. Box 145, Ocilla, Ga.  31774, Frank Primitive Baptist Church Memorial Fund, ℅ Mr. Walter Sumner, P. O. Box 112, Ocilla, Ga. 31774, Hospice of Tift Area, P. O. Box 747, Tifton, Ga. 31793.

To sign the online registry, go to www.paulkfuneralhome.com.

Paulk Funeral Home, Ocilla, is in charge of arrangements.

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