Athens Native and Wonder Fred Birchmore Dies at 100
Cyclist, world traveler, Boy Scout leader, Kiwanian, Methodist, amazing person.
On Sunday morning, Athens Centenarian, Kiwanian and world traveler Fred Birchmore died.
An Athens native, he was a fixture at the Athens YMCA after he retired from real estate in 1973, working out almost every day almost until his death. A native of Athens, Mr. Birchmore had both an undergraduate, a master’s and a law degree from UGA.
He leaves behind his wife of 72 years, Willa Deane, and their four children, Fred, Jr., Belinda, Becky and Danny.
“He was in great physical condition his whole life, and was really addicted to exercise and working out,” said fellow Kiwanian Larry Dendy. "He once said the reason he did all of these things was that he had to burn off his energy."
There are many tales of his physical prowess. When he was in his 20s, Mr. Birchmore rode a bicycle—named Bucephalus, for Alexander the Great’s horse—around the world and wrote a memoir about his adventures. A gymnast in his youth, as an adult he walked on his hands up the stairs in the Southern Mutual Building, where he had his office; up the stairs near Sanford Stadium; and up the steps of the Washington Monument. He traveled the world, including taking a trip to Machu Picchu when he was well past retirement.
Mr. Birchmore was a veteran, serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. While in service, he contracted a disease and had to have most of his large intestine removed. In his 80s, he loved to recount the story of the ship’s doctor telling him he wouldn’t live long.
He and Willa Deane married in 1939. For their honeymoon, they pedaled a tandem bicycle 4,500 miles in Latin America. Mr. Birchmore liked to tell the Kiwanians that when Willa Deane's energy flagged, "I would give her a little peck on the neck and she'd be good for another 20 miles."
The two were for years a familiar sight to those running on the UGA track in the early mornings. There they would come, walking together from Five Points on Lumpkin, heading to campus. They would walk to Sanford Stadium and repeatedly go up and down, up and down the stairs, before walking home.
The Birchmore house is at the end of Milledge Terrace, adjacent to Memorial Park. Mr. Birchmore gave land to the city for the park. A trail through the park is named the Birchmore Trail in his honor.
When the Birchmore children were young, the family was involved in both Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. The arrowhead collection that covers the walls in the Birchmore house is eye-popping in its beauty and diversity.
Surrounding the Milledge Terrace house is The Great Wall of Athens, a huge stone wall, with boulders as big as Volkswagens, constructed by Mr. Birchmore and his son Danny. He once told a neighbor the wall has 57 boxcars of boulders in it, because it's as deep as is it high.
The Birchmores have been members forever, it seems, of First United Methodist Church, where Mr. Birchmore was a member of the Tuck Sunday School Class. The class began in 1910, two years before he was born.
One thing that distinguished Mr. Birchmore at the Kiwanis meetings, said Larry Dendy, was how, at every meeting, he would go around the room, stopping at every table to speak to everyone.
"He embodied the essence of the friendship and fellowship of Kiwanis," said Dendy. "He was such an inspiration to me. For every community service project, he was the first one there and the last to leave."