By Joel Hall
The Clayton County Water Authority recently honored an employee killed while fighting in Afghanistan as a member of the Georgia Army National Guard.
The authority paid tribute to Sgt. 1st Class John Beale, of McDonough, this week with a living memorial in his honor. In addition, the water authority announced the establishment of the John C. Beale Memorial Fund, to provide for his surviving children's education.
Beale was killed in Afghanistan on June 4 by a roadside bomb. On Thursday, about 100 people gathered at the water authority in Jonesboro to dedicate the John C. Beale Living Memorial, which sits in front of the water authority's rear, employee entrance.
According to Michael Thomas, the authority's general manager, a water fountain at the building's rear entrance was converted by employees into a memorial containing a large planter. In the center of the memorial, he said, is a Parrotia persica, a deciduous tree native to the Middle East which is known for needing very little water to survive.
A plaque at the memorial bears the Biblical reference, John 15:13, which says: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
"We tried to keep it kind of simple," Thomas said. "This was more aimed at the water authority family and giving them a chance to honor John and his family. There was some sadness associated with it because he's not with us anymore. We are trying to celebrate John's life."
Thomas, state Rep. Michael Glanton (D-Ellenwood), and the authority's stormwater manager, Kevin Osbey, offered words during the dedication ceremony for the memorial on Thursday. Beale's wife, Crystal Beale, his two children, Christopher and Calye Beale, and his two brothers, Mike and Tim Beale, were all present.
Osbey, who was John Beale's supervisor, said that the nine-year water authority employee began working for the Stormwater Utility in January 2007, when it was established. He said John Beale was the water authority's first stormwater management technician, and that the procedures he put in place have "defined the scope of work" for that position.
"He would do inspections of our streams and he would also inspect facilities to make sure they weren't dumping any illicit discharge into our stormwater infrastructure," Osbey said. "John was a very dedicated person. He wasn't the kind of person you had to micro manage ... You could give him marching orders and he would get the job done."
Osbey said the memorial will serve as a daily reminder of John Beale's sacrifice.
"The majority of our employees ... they come through that location, so a good number will see it every day," he said. "We just don't want to forget John. It will be a good reminder of our brother who used to work here and made the ultimate sacrifice."
According to Thomas, in addition to the memorial, the water authority and Heritage Bank have established the John C. Beale Memorial Fund, which will serve as an educational fund for the Beales' two children. The public will be able to make donations to the fund at any of the bank's locations in Forest Park, Jonesboro, McDonough, Stockbridge and Fayetteville, he said.
"The primary part of the fund is to support the education of the kids now that their primary wage earner is gone," Thomas said.
Crystal Beale, who was married to John Beale for nearly 19 years, worked alongside her husband for the past five years as a Clayton County Water Authority customer service representative. She said the memorial and the water authority's support have helped her family with the grieving process.
"If my husband was here, he would be very proud to see what was put into it," Crystal Beale said. "When he was deployed, everybody would call and check on me. We have a very tight-knit work family. It [the memorial] will be a reminder of what my husband did and what so many soldiers have done."