TIFTON -- The several successful businesses that he began, the many big companies he helped bring to Tifton and the projects he championed for the betterment of this area will be the legacy of John Hunt, who passed away early Wednesday morning.

But Hunt's closest friends said they will miss his humanity more than anything else.

"John was a very strong character, very determined and very meticulous," said Dr. Joe Turner, one of Hunt's closest friends. "But he had a side that a lot of people didn't see. He was a tender-hearted and caring person. He was fun-loving and loved people and that's what I'll remember."

Hunt suffered a massive heart attack on Saturday, March 8 while visiting Amelia Island. He never regained consciousness.

A native of Ashburn, Hunt lived most of his life in the Tiftarea and left an indelible imprint on the scope of business and education in the community. As a member of the Board of Regents, Hunt consistently got funding for projects at ABAC and helped lure many industries, such as the Target Distribution Center and the Wal-Mart photo processing plant, to Tifton.

U.S. Sen. Zell Miller appointed Hunt to the Board of Regents in 1997 when Miller was Georgia's governor.

"He is one of the closest friends I have in Georgia," Miller said. "He was always looking after Tifton, working for improvements, better roads, the airport and ABAC. That was one of his favorite targets.

"He and Julie were life partners in every sense," Miller added. "I don't know a husband and wife any closer and he was a proud father. We had a lot of good times - we went to New York City and Branson, Missouri. He had a great vision. He could look at something like a muddy field and when everyone else saw a muddy field, he could see something beautiful."

Born in Ashburn, Hunt attended Abraham Baldwin before going on to South Georgia College in Douglas, where he played football for a little-known head coach named Bobby Bowden. He then married his wife Julie and enrolled at the University of Georgia.

After college, the couple moved to Atlanta where Hunt

worked in a Chevrolet plant installing steering columns. Then came a move to Valdosta where Hunt ran a gas station for a short time before moving to Tifton where he opened the Chrysler dealership. At age 24, he was the youngest Chrysler dealer in the country and kept the business until the late 1970s.

In 1969, he opened Shoney's after initially being rebuffed by the company.

"He got in his car and drove to their home office in Charleston, West Virginia and told them that they needed to be in Tifton," said his son Dallas Hunt. "When they said no, that didn't work for him so he took it own himself. He was the first Shoney's franchisee."

That restaurant evolved into a string of Shoney's and Captain D's in the South Georgia and South Florida area. Hunt also developed real estate in Tifton, building Huntington and Park Place Apartments.

Four years ago, Hunt joined former Chancellor Stephen Portsch and invited Mike Vollmer to dinner.

"They asked me that if the president's position at ABAC were to come open, would I be interested?," said Vollmer, ABAC's current president. "That was my first exposure to the school and Tifton. I thoroughly enjoyed John's friendship and feel privileged for knowing him.

"I really hope that people in this area realize the impact this one individual had here," Vollmer added. "The conference center that is under construction, the $50 million for ABAC, the new Moultrie Tech expansion, some of the new industries here ... that just doesn't happen because someone has a pretty face. It was a lot of hard work and John Hunt spearheaded most of it. He was a close friend and I'm at a loss of what I'll be doing at lunchtime many days. I'll miss the good arguing sessions we had at Shoney's."

On three different occasions, then-Gov. Miller appointed Hunt to the Stone Mountain Park Memorial Association, where he served for 17 years, nine has chairman. During that time, the park became the third largest park in the country in terms of visitors. He was also a former chairman of the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism for one year and served on the board for seven years.

Hunt also served as the president of the Tifton-Tift County Chamber of Commerce.

Hunt is survived by his wife Julie, son and daughter-in-law, Dallas and Angie Hunt of Tifton, and a daughter and son-in-law, Julie V. and Jamie Mann of Tifton. His funeral will be Friday at 3 p.m. at First United Methodist Church. See complete obituary information on Page 2A.

To contact managing editor Chris Beckham, call 382-4321, ext. 203.

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