Benjamin “Ben” Scott Nelms, 71, a resident of Peachtree City, died Wednesday, December 21, 2022, at Piedmont Newnan Hospital.
Mr. Nelms was respected and loved by officials, friends, and readers in Jefferson and Fayette counties, where he served with the staffs of The News and Farmer and Jefferson Reporter and The Citizen newspapers during a 24-year career as a local journalist.
Mr. Nelms was born July 5, 1951, the first of four sons to Mack and Nan Smith Nelms. He moved with his family, following his father’s career with Southern Bell, from east Georgia to Cartersville, Rome, and finally, Decatur. His brother, Jon, fondly recalls roaming the forests around Rome, Georgia, where the boys carried sack lunches on day-long expeditions exploring creeks and springs, building forts, and waging dirt-clod wars with each other. He credits Ben’s innate sense of direction with getting them back home every night.
Mr. Nelms graduated from Columbia High School in Decatur. He met Gaye Crozier, the love of his life, at Winn Dixie where they worked together. He was in his first year of college and Gaye was a senior in high school when they met. The couple married in 1972 and continued their studies, with Mr. Nelms earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Georgia State University.
In the 70s, Mr. Nelms and his wife were co-owners of a bar, The Downtown Cafe, which they managed for 10 years after they married. Their sons, Austin and Joshua, were born during these years. They both also worked for a company that provided social services to developmentally disabled persons during this time.
In the early 80s, Mr. Nelms moved his family to Maryland to accept a promising job offer that turned out to be a disappointment. For six months, he spent his days shoveling chicken manure. His family says he smelled so bad when he came home for lunch, they ate together at a picnic table outside of the house.
In search of better opportunities, the family crossed the country to join his brother, Jon, and his family in California. The two brothers’ wives sold avocados picked from a tree in their backyard in the Los Angeles area to help pay bills.
Soon after arriving in California, Mr. Nelms followed a lead from a newspaper he picked up on the cross-country drive from Maryland. As a result, he packed up again, loading 13 boxes into a U-Haul trailer. He pulled the trailer behind the family’s Volvo with his wife, a German shepherd, and the two boys in car seats. This adventure took them to Tucson, where he went to work as an entry-level line staff for Arizona Integrated Residential and Educational Services (AIRES).
Mr. Nelms and his wife divorced in 1984. He remained at AIRES, working his way to the number two position in the company, Director of Program Services, until 1995, when he moved back to Georgia and began caring for his aging parents in their home in the tiny town of Bartow.
He never remarried and remained lifelong best friends with Gaye. After he moved back to Georgia, Gaye called him for advice on running a day program she operated for developmentally disabled adults. She installed him as a Vice President of the Board of Directors for Tumbleweed Compadre (DTA), which became a family business with Mr. Nelms, Gaye, and their son, Austin. He remained active on the board for the rest of his life.
Meanwhile, in Jefferson County, he founded a companionship service for aging and disabled persons. While getting this business off the ground, he would visit the offices of The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter in Louisville, where he placed ads and struck up conversations with the publisher, Joyce Beverly.
In 1998, he made a mid-life career change when Mrs. Beverly recruited him to join the newspaper’s small staff in Jefferson County as a reporter. He worked there until 2005, when he moved to Fayette County to join Mrs. Beverly, her husband, Cal, and the team at The Citizen.
He made a home and many, many friends in Fayette County, where he became a trusted, beloved local journalist, filing the last of well over 10,000 stories just a week before his death. In social media comments in the days after his passing, people posted the words kind, fair, respected, brilliant, and “a true character” over and over again. Numerous “long conversations with Ben” were also referenced.
In 2013, Mr. Nelms published a book, The First and Final Paradigm, a fictional story based on his experiences in nearly two decades of social services. In the book, the main character learns how his words, actions, and especially his thoughts define his life.
In the early 2000s, Mr. Nelms, Gaye, and his son, Austin, pioneered the “watch party,” enjoying Falcons games together via phone every Sunday. They observed this ritual almost without exception, watching the final game together from his hospital room three days before he died.
Friends agree that, above all, he was most proud of his sons. He was also pleased that people trusted him to report and help them understand what was happening in their communities. And he was proud to be an advocate for the disabled.
“The legacy you live is the legacy you leave,” Mr. Nelms is quoted as saying.
His legacy is carved onto the hearts of thousands. He will be missed.
Mr. Nelms is survived by his ex-wife, Gaye Austin Bianchi; his sons, Austin Nelms (Marcia), of Tucson, Arizona, and Joshua Nelms, of Grovetown, Georgia; three grandsons, Gavin Nelms, Solomon Nelms, and Ethan Nelms, of Evans;
Three brothers, David Nelms (Loretta), Durham, N.C., Jon Nelms (Nolin), Grovetown, Georgia, and Lewis Nelms (Leah), St. Simons;
And a host of nephews, nieces, and close friends.
A memorial service will be held at 11 am on Thursday, December 29, at Mowell Funeral Home Chapel, 200 Robinson Road, Peachtree City. The family will receive visitors from 10 am until 11 am. Except for his wedding day, no one can recall ever seeing Mr. Nelms wear a tie. Folks planning to attend the service are encouraged to follow his casual style.
A drop-in afternoon of “Ben Stories” will be held in Louisville, Georgia, on Saturday, December 31, at the home of Cal and Joyce Beverly, from 2 until 5 pm. Again: no ties.