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Story Archives: In Memory of Joe Morse "Bobo" Gravelle
|In Memory of Joe Morse "Bobo" Gravelle|
As remembered by his son, Joe S. Gravelle
Joe Morse Gravelle was born in Winnsboro on March 12, 1931 to Leonard Sherman and Mary Morse Gravelle in a small frame house on West Street. Soon afterward the family moved a few yards down the street to 1703 West where he was raised along with his two sisters: Marileon Peterson of Bridge City, Texas and Babs Tullos of New Roads, Louisiana. He lived most of his life in Winnsboro and through his community service tried to make Winnsboro a better place for everyone to live. He was a fixture in the business community of over 50 years.
"Bobo" as he was affectionately known, spent his early years peddling his bicycle and delivering newspapers on the dirt streets of the town he loved so much.
As a young man, Dad was very interested in the scouting program. He earned the rank of Eagle Scout as well as the Order of the Arrow. He spent the summers of 1946 and 1947 at Camp Kiroli in West Monroe. Dad graduated from Winnsboro High School in 1948 and enrolled at the University of Toledo where his uncle resided and worked for the Toledo Edison Company. After a year in Ohio, Dad returned home and attended Louisiana State University where he earned a degree in journalism. While at LSU, he worked alongside his lifelong friend, Sam Hanna, at the university newspaper. Hanna would comment years later on his friendship with my Dad, "He's the dearest friend I have and one of the finest men I've ever known". My father remained very close to LSU and generously supported both the university and in particular the School of Journalism his entire life.
Upon graduation from LSU Dad enlisted in the U.S. Army. He did his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Kansas. He reported for duty and served in Korea until 1956 as a counter-intelligence agent. He always spoke fondly of the time he spent in the Army and especially of his year stationed in Hawaii. He was very proud of his service to his country and believed that some military service should be required of every young American male.
Dad returned to Winnsboro and began working for his father in the family's Gulf Oil wholesale distribution business. It was there he met Mary Alice Harris, his wife of forty-five years. She was employed by his father as a secretary. They married in 1962 and enjoyed many happy years working side by side in the business they built. Several years after their marriage a plaque above Mary Alice's desk quipped, "Before we married I was the secretary – now I am the treasurer".
In 1972 Dad purchased the business from his father and immediately began to pursue the growth of the business. He saw that the future of fuel sales was in convenience stores. More and more gasoline would be sold at self-serve convenience stores rather than traditional full-service stations. Over the next twenty-five years he built a small network of these stores around Franklin Parish and north Louisiana. Many of those stores are still operating today as is the business his father founded.
My father was active in many civic organizations including the Franklin Parish Chamber of Commerce, the Jaycees, the Civitan Club, and the North Delta Regional Planning and Development District. He was also a board member of the Louisiana Oil Marketers Association. Dad also served on the Franklin Parish Hospital Board of Commissioners for twelve years; three as chairman. He was a lifelong member of the First United Methodist Church in Winnsboro.
In 1977 Dad was elected to the board of directors of the Franklin State Bank and Trust Company. He served there for over thirty years and as Chairman of the Board from 2005 until his death. Fellow board member Noble Ellington remembered my father by saying, "He was always concerned about everyone around him, and he always did the right thing". Franklin State Bank president, Bill Walker, remembered Dad calling him an "uncommon person". Walker remarked, "Joe had the qualities which made you want to be his friend…informed, non-judgmental, entertaining, and fiercely loyal. My life has been made better by knowing Joe Gravelle". My father had a special place in his heart for the Franklin Bank and the bank family. He looked forward to seeing all of them daily and visiting customers in the lobby when he was able.
In what was to become the twilight of his life, Dad enjoyed spending time with his family and in particular his grandchildren. He kept an office at the bulk plant out on Loop Road which he frequented daily. Dad kept himself in excellent physical condition by walking nearly every day down at the community walking trail. For years, he and my mother traveled extensively together all over the United States. In the summer of 2004 they journeyed over 12,000 miles by automobile to Alaska. It was the trip of a lifetime, pit toilets and all.
Regretfully, in June of 2006, Dad was diagnosed with a very serious form of brain cancer. When presented with his treatment options he opted for surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. His cancer went into remission; but only for a short while. He was not interested in searching the world over for a miraculous cure or experimental treatments. He wanted to be close to home and around friends and family – the people he loved so much. Dad approached his battle with cancer much the same way he approached everything that came his way in life. He was deliberate yet confident in his ability to handle the situation at hand. He always shined a positive light on his situation and expected others around him to do the same. The glass was always half full with Dad.
An avid and loyal LSU football fan for many years, Dad attended his final LSU football game and cheered his beloved Tigers as they defeated Notre Dame in the 2007 Sugar Bowl. Later that year, on September 10, he succumbed to his disease at his home on West Street. His family was at his side and I held his hand and said goodbye.
Cancer has not been kind to our family of late. And we have learned that cancer can rob a family of many things. But, cancer cannot destroy an enduring legacy or fond memories of a loved one.
Joe Morse Gravelle left us with both.
Joe Morse "Bobo" Gravelle
March 12, 1931 – September 10, 2007