We often get asked, “Why did we settle on a Fifties theme or where does the name KirbyG come from?” Well, today, we thought we would share a bit of our family with your family. “KirbyG” is Raleigh Kirby Godsey, born in 1936, the youngest of three sons. Growing up in relative poverty with barely money to afford shoes, Kirby learned from an early age about the necessity of hard work. Kirby wrote about his early years:
My mother, Chloe, worked for a living before working moms were the social norm. My most unyielding impressions of her, even at a young age, were fortitude and resolve. I didn’t know what to call it. Perhaps I called it determination. Chloe had three sons: Jack, the brightest; Max, the kindest; and me. I was conceived in joy but was born in the shadows of her sorrow. Her husband and my father, Spearman, was killed in an accident at work, leaving her pregnant and scared. She found work and raised three sons. She did it the hard way. She labored long hours in the school lunchroom and on World War II assembly lines. Not well-educated herself, she wanted to assure that we were well-fed, well-churched, and well-educated. At the time, it never occurred to me that we were poor. We were nurtured with good faith, strict discipline, and lots of up close lessons about self-reliance.*
At the age of 18, Kirby landed a job at the Alabama Cigar & Soda Co. (pictured) in Birmingham, Alabama as a “soda jerk.” About his time there, Kirby wrote:
I learned my first lessons … behind a soda fountain where work after school provided far more than a little spending money. This fountain was my window onto a world of theatre and commerce, a world of discord and celebration, a world of trading and profits. … My brother, Jack, had worked there as a college student, and I could think of nothing grander than to follow his steps into the calling of being a “soda jerk.” That’s what we were called because that’s what we did. In that day and time a person “jerked” sodas, spewing high pressured carbonated water into tall glasses of ice cream, foaming our way toward a soda to be topped with a mountain of whipped cream and a syrupy red cherry.*
One afternoon at the Alabama Cigar & Soda Co, the owner told Kirby that he was leaving for the day and asked him if he would lock up the joint. Kirby obliged. Every night after that during his tenure as a soda jerk, and without another word from the owner, Kirby was responsible for closing up. The managerial skills Kirby learned in this first professional endeavor served him well. He worked his way through school, ultimately earning two doctoral degrees. Kirby then immersed himself in academia, serving as a professor of philosophy and religion, department chair, college dean, and finally, university president. Kirby’s academic career culminated in his 27-year tenure as president of Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. Under Kirby’s leadership, Mercer was transformed from a small, liberal arts college to a comprehensive university.
But Kirby never lost his love of his days as a soda jerk. So it is fitting that he partnered with his oldest daughter, Erica, to open this diner in April 2008. (Erica and her husband, Neil, get credit for all the sweat equity!!). It is their hope is that KirbyG’s will continue to stand as a symbol of the simpler days of ice cream sodas, cheeseburgers and sock hops. Of a time when telephones were rotary, and throngs of people lined up to see a movie at the Alabama Theatre. So, take a few moments to enjoy the simplicity …and, hopefully, a milkshake (or an ice cream soda). But, don’t be surprised if, when “Kirby G is in the house,” your tab is on him…
*Excerpts from: When We talk about God . . . Let’s by honest, by R. Kirby Godsey