When Olympic flame came here


Let’s remember the 1996 Olympics, you know, when it came through Fayette County.

There were 12 honored folks here who carried the Olympic torch some of the distance from Greece to Atlanta right through Fayette County.

One precious torch bearer died shortly after; one carried the torch strapped to his wheel chair. We came in all sizes, shapes and colors.

Billy Payne, originator of the Olympics coming to Atlanta, wanted the torch bearers to have personal reasons to be honored with one of those being years of volunteering. He didn’t want folks chosen just because they were popular, or at least that was my impression.

We had to purchase our torch for the sum of $275. Yes, I still have my canceled check. For those who didn’t have the money, donations covered the cost.

The torches were designed by Georgia Tech and would hold a gas flame for 13 to 15 minutes.

Fayetteville was wanting to show off its new fountain and park just southwest of the old courthouse and after some discussion on the matter, the Olympic folks agreed to take a 15-minute break at this point.

I got to bring the torch into the fountain park and onto the stage. So that my flame would not go out, since it had been on for several minutes, my torch was used to light another fresh one, and that’s the one I used to pass on the flame to the torch bearer after me, General Bill Livsey.

The temperature had been 98 degrees for three straight weeks and didn’t let up any on July 17, 1996. It was a double special date for me because my son, David, was born on July 17th and, though he lived in Oregon, he flew in to be with me on that special day.

While I mention my son here, I also have a daughter. That makes two children but just one official Olympic torch. I can “call” dividing paintings and books among them but not the torch. Being understanding siblings, they agreed to place my torch on a temporary basis with the county. It is currently on display along with the names of all 12 Fayette County torch bearers.

There were, I am told, some 20,000 people around the Fayetteville square that day, proudly sharing this most historic event.

[Carolyn Cary is the official Fayette County historian and the editor of the county’s first compiled history, “The History of Fayette County,” published in 1977. She lives in Fayetteville.]