Photo by Curt Yeomans
Several family photographs of Ted Key were put out on display Tuesday at his funeral in Forest Park. The historian was remembered at the service for the lives he touched.
FOREST PARK — Hundreds of people came together at Jones Memorial Methodist Church in Forest Park Tuesday to say one last good-bye to “Father Christmas.”
Clayton County historian and storyteller Ted Key was remembered at his funeral for the stories he often told at Stately Oaks Plantation, but he was remembered more for the impact he had on the lives of people he met. In addition to being a historian, he taught in Clayton County schools for 33 years and then taught at Woodward Academy for another nine years. He later returned to Woodward as a substitute teacher.
He was also a youth director at Jones Memorial for several years.
His family and friends said he will continue to live on through the people he met.
“I see the light in each of your faces because of Ted, my Teddy,” his sister, Joan Murray, told attendees as she fought back tears.
A testament to how many people valued Key’s impact on their lives was the fact that 500 people attended his funeral, leaving the church nearly at standing room-only.
He was involved with Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc. for decades, and started the group’s Native-American and African-American heritage celebrations. He also built the Creek Indian village at Stately Oaks, where he served as a docent, and played “Father Christmas” at Historical Jonesboro’s annual Christmas breakfasts.
He was a two-time Clayton County teacher of the Year, and Georgia Teaching Hall of Fame inductee. Additionally, he received awards from the North Georgia Methodist Conference, the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Daughters of the American Revolution.
“He had the ability to walk in to a room filled with unruly 12 and 13 year olds, and hold them spellbound with his stories for the whole class period,” said Terry White, who was a student of Key’s in 1977, after the funeral.
In a slight tip of the hat to both his Methodist faith and his work at Stately Oaks, the attendees sang the “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which is a song about the glory of God, but has long been associated with the U.S. Civil War.
Many people Key knew through church attended the funeral, but the crowd’s make-up also showed Key was valued by some dignitaries in the county as well. Morrow Mayor Joseph “J.B.” Burke, Clayton County State Court Judge John Carbo and former state representative, and Clayton News Daily founder, Jim Wood were in the crowd. Retired Clayton County State Court Judge Harold Benefield was one of the pallbearers.
But, perhaps the largest group of people in the audience were Key’s former students at Babb Middle School. Some of them brought old weathered reports they had done years ago for Key’s eighth-grade history class.
“People will go on having our stories about Ted for years to come,” said Carol Cook, a long-time friend of Key’s. “He’s a man who will live in our hearts as long as our hearts keep beating.”
During the service, attendees were given envelopes filled with sunflower seeds they were asked to plant. The distribution of the seeds piggy-backed on comparison between the roots of a plant and the lives Key touched made earlier in the service by his youngest son, Matt.
“The roots of all he touched are going to go on for a long time to come,” Matt Key said.