Clayton County historian Ted Key weaves a 19th-century-style belt using a loom at Stately Oaks Plantation, in Jonesboro, in this June 3, 2011, file photo. Key, who was heavily involved in Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc. for more than 30 years, died Thursday during a family trip in the North Georgia mountains.
JONESBORO “Mr. Historical Jonesboro” has died.
Clayton County historian Ted Key, 73, succumbed to a heart attack Thursday morning, while enjoying a family trip in the North Georgia mountains, said Historical Jonesboro/Clayton County, Inc. President Barbara Emert.
Emert fought back tears as she confirmed the news. Key had been involved with Historical Jonesboro for more than 30 years, and sat on its board of directors, she said. He regularly volunteered as a docent at the group’s Stately Oaks Plantation museum.
“He was ‘Mr. Historical Jonesboro,’ ” said Emert. “He was the backbone of this organization, and he was absolutely dedicated to our core mission. He was dedicated to preserving relics from our history, and he had this passion to make sure our history was not forgotten.”
Key’s funeral will take place Tuesday, at 3 p.m., at Jones Memorial United Methodist Church, located at 5320 Phillips Drive, in Morrow. He is survived by his wife, Judy, his sons, Mike and Matt, daughter-in-law Carrie, and grandchildren Ashleigh, Kellum and Mitchell.
Judy Key said her husband likely will be buried at Camp Memorial Gardens in Fayetteville.
Key was known in the community because he was heavily involved in several Historical Jonesboro activities. In addition to being a docent at Stately Oaks, he played “Father Christmas” at the organization’s annual Christmas breakfasts, created the Creek Indian village located on the Stately Oaks property and was instrumental in establishing Historical Jonesboro’s annual Native American and African-American celebrations.
He gave tours at Stately Oaks as recently as Wednesday morning, according to Historical Jonesboro officials.
“He was Stately Oaks,” said Eddie White, a retired Clayton County educator and one of Key’s longtime friends. “When you talked about Historical Jonesboro, Ted Key was the image you had.”
He was also known as a storyteller, who would share tales of Clayton County’s past with several civic and business organizations.
“We had been begging him for years to record all of those stories, and he was just so busy that he never had the time,” said Historical Jonesboro volunteer Carol Cook. “Now, we’re all going to be wracking our brains trying to remember those stories.”
Judy Key said her husband was a two-time Clayton County Teacher of the Year, a member of the Georgia Teachers Hall of Fame, a former state advisor for the “Y” Club and the recipient of awards from the United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the North Georgia Methodist Conference.
“He was such a unique person, and a special person,” said Judy Key. “He touched so many lives in so many ways.”
Key’s wife added that although her husband “loved Georgia history,” he was a “Conch” — meaning he was a native of Key West, Fla. — his grandmother was a native of the Bahamas.
Cook added, “He was from Key West, but once he set foot on Georgia soil, he was a Georgia boy.”
Cook said she has known Key since 1956, when they were freshmen at Andrew College in Cuthbert. She added he gave the eulogy at her husband’s funeral 22 years ago, and late gave her daughter away at her wedding.
She said they met because Andrew College assigned older students to be “big brothers” and “big sisters” to freshmen. They shared the same “big sister,” she said.
“He has been my brother for all of these years,” said Cook.
Clayton County Chamber of Commerce President Yulonda Beaufort said she was “shocked” over the news of Key’s passing. She said he regular spoke about Clayton County’s history during the chamber’s Leadership Clayton Regionalism sessions. She said they had recently run into each other at Gina’s Bistro, in Jonesboro, and talked about having him speak to another Leadership Clayton class.
Beaufort said Key brought an “unmatched” amount of knowledge about the county’s history during his presentations.
“I will never forget, how he would often dress in the period costumes and his trademark Southern accent in giving the presentations,” said Beaufort. “He looked forward to giving the presentation each year just as much as we looked forward to having him.”
Key taught in Clayton County schools for 30 years, and then taught at Woodward Academy for another nine years. Cook said, in more recent years, he returned to Woodward as a substitute teacher.
“He loved teaching and he loved kids and working with young people,” said Cook.
White said Key was a “master teacher” who was respected by other educators and by parents. White said he and Key joined the school system in 1961, with White teaching at the Fountain School and Key teaching at Babb Junior High School. White later became an assistant principal at Babb, where he worked alongside Key.
White said Key regularly dressed in period costumes to help his students understand the topics they were covering.
“If there was a master teacher, he was — is — that teacher,” said White. “He made social studies come alive. Parents of students in elementary school heard about him, and they couldn’t wait to get to middle school so they could have Mr. Key as their child’s teacher.”
With Key’s death, a valuable asset for Clayton County is gone, said White.
“We have lost a jewel,” he said.
Staff reporter Elaine Rackley contributed to this report.