Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Who was John Moran Ezzell?

"You are asking me about John Ezzell as an Old Sewanee Football Player?  Well, I would say that, pound for pound, and he only weighed 144, he was recognized as one of the finest and fiercest competitors Southern football has ever known."

This was how Fred Russell, the Nashville Banner's nationally-known sports writer, put it when we asked him about the character who today is the head of our Fortune Shoe Company, until recently known as Richland-Davidson Shoe Company.

John was a great end on some of the finest of the University of the South's teams in the fading 20's, and just before Sewanee dropped its big time football aspirations, never to go back to them on such a scale.  But for all of the 20th century Sewanee's fame was great and wide, and our John Ezzell wrote his own bright page in that history.  In 1928 a fine Vanderbilt team beat Sewanee 13-0, but the Nashville Banner sports-page files record that "the star offensive-defensive end of the game was a 144-pound Nashville boy named Ezzell, whose tousled blonde hair was seen in every play, making the kind of tackles that were impossible--unless of course you were playing for Sewanee and against Vanderbilt and your name was Ezzell.  "There has never been a finer symbol of courage and competitor-ship that represented Sewanee of that day, than John Ezzell," said Sportwriter Russell with a mixture of nostalgia and admiration.  

John brought these characteristics to General Shoe, all except the tousled blonde hair, which must have been lost irretrievably on those southern gridirons 30 years ago.  In all these years he has become one of our best-known and best-liked personalities, and by the testimony of top company executives is coming to be known as one of the best fashion authorities in the men's shoe industry.  He stepped right out of Sewanee's June 1931 graduating class into the Jarman Shoe Company's stock room.  By October he had become a correspondent in the Credit Department.  A year later Maxey Jarman sent John out on the road with the very first sample line of Fortune shoes, and for more than three years, he ploughed some mighty deep furrows in this business, up and down and across Georgia and South Carolina.

Then George Noland, wanting an assistant to himself as sales manager of Richland-Davidson, brought John in from the road to take that job.  But selling was really in his blood, and he was back in a Fortune territory from 1937-1942.  His experience broadened out with two following years as Supervisor of Customer Service.  "By that time," said Earle Bumpous, "I had made up my mind that John was the man we needed as Sales Manager of Richland-Davidson,"  John got the job in 1944, and now has had eleven years of outstanding work in heading up that division, just recently changed to Fortune Shoe Company.  He has consistently been among the leaders in all-round performance among the many competing sales divisions.

We visited around the building, asking stray questions about John.  Here are some of the things his employees, company associates and executive superiors say about him:  "has loyalty--to the extreme,...Never have seen a man thought as much of by all his accounts.  Bends over backwards to treat them his own. He's slow to criticize, quick to praise. ...He's especially liked by 'the little people.'  He's their friend."  Among other things, Matt Wigginton praised "his style sense as demonstrated by the group of Light Step shoes which he designed and the lead he has taken in pioneering the Italian influence in the volume price field; the regard in which he is held by his salesmen and by his customers."

John Moran Ezzell was born on October 28, 1909 at Newsom Station, Tenn., with a population of 36 colored and four white:  John, his siter, mother and faterh.  His very first job was in Newsom Station--water boy in a stone quarry--totin' drinking water to dark-complected workmen.  He attended Buffalo school there, then switched to Tarbox in Nashville, and later to Wallace University School, where his football talents were first revealed, as a prelude to those four years at Sewanee.

John is and always will be a Sewanee man.  He raises money for the University with deep devotion, goes back to alumni reunions, follows the football team even with its program of sanity and de-emphasis.  He also raises money and works in other ways for St. Bartholomew's Episcopal church, Nashville's newest, in Lealands, where he is a charter member and a top man.  At Sewanee he was a big Phi Delta Theta man, and an O.D.K. honor man.  At Bluegrass he is a pretty fair golfer; on lake or stream he is a good fisherman, and in a wet and breezing blind he's never happier than when banging away at ducks.

When he was traveling in South Carolina, John made the sale of his life.  He sold Margaret "Peg" Rhett Cuthbert of Charleston on the idea of becoming his wife.  They were married in 1938 (I believe he meant to say 1939) and now have tall, blonde daughter, Peggy who was captain of Julia Green grade school's basketball team last winter, and eight year old Jimmy, the spitten image and model of his father.  

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