LIFE OF JOBE THOMAS “Jay” OTT – 1932 –2012
HUSBAND OF RUTH MITCHELL, FATHER OF CATHEY AND JAY, GRANDFATHER OF MADDIE, CODY, BRANDON, RACHEL, DILLON & MEGAN; GREAT GRANDFATHER OF CAROLINE, CAITLYN, WILLIAM, GAVIN, ROXY, CAS AND LEXIE.
I entered the world on April 13, 1932 in Sylacauga, AL because my Dad was laid off in Montgomery and went up there to work at Avondale Mill for a few weeks. Mom was staying at the home of Roy and Bive Moore, her sister. Uncle Roy also worked at Avondale. We actually lived in West End in Montgomery and Dad’s regular job was at the cotton mill there. Mom and Dad had lost one baby boy before me, so they were extra careful to see that I made it past my second birthday. After that I was on my own. Just a joke, but not too far from true. Betty arrived in 1935 so Mom and Dad had two small ones to look after during the decade of the great depression. It hit the south in earnest about 1931 and lingered in certain aspects of the economy pretty much until we entered WWII in late 1941.
I don’t remember a lot of my first few years. I do remember my parents working but not having steady income so that sometimes we ate reasonably well and other times it was biscuits and syrup. One winter when Dad was sick and couldn’t work for a few weeks, Betty and I picked up coal on the railroad tracks so we could keep warm. I remember going to Elementary school in West End when Mrs. McMillan was the principal. She spanked me my first day there and said to tell my Dad it was payback because he and his brothers held her down and spanked her years earlier. During the war Dad joined the navy and was sent to Ft. Pierce, FL to train as a frogman. We went down there with him for awhile and I remember German U-boats off the coast, fresh oranges on the trees, and the men bringing home rations from the base to feed their families. I believe it did me a lot of good to get out of Montgomery and see a little of the rest of the world. Remember we didn’t have television and so we never really saw how other people lived except in the movies, and they weren’t very realistic then.
While we were in Florida, we rented our house on Chisholm Street which we had built ourselves from two shotgun houses torn down in Westcott to make room for Maxwell to enlarge. The neighbors thought trailer trash had arrived when we got there with trucks piled with the messy residue to use for building our house. I don’t think Dad ever forgot their disdain and when he had money later to build a new brick house, he just had to put it right there in their faces. It wasn’t a good spot, investment-wise, but it did his morale a world of good. We lived in the old house until I left right out of high school for the Marines. I remember sleeping under the tin roof on the enclosed back porch when it rained. I still wish for a tin roof on rainy nights. I also remember in the summer how Mom wet sheets in the bathtub and covered us with them when it was too hot to sleep. We really enjoyed the attic fan when we finally got one.
After the war the building boom began and Dad and his brothers Grover, William and Alvie, all started roofing. Grover eventually became the foreman of a crew and Dad a salesman par excellence. He loved to ride, so he covered every back road within 50 miles of Montgomery spotting decaying roofs and making sales. He did so well he was able to build that new brick house 1951-52 and rent out the corner one. He bought a huge TV as well as a new car every year or so. Major was in high cotton.
In May of 1951 when I graduated from Lanier, the Marine jeep was practically waiting outside to take me to Parris Island, S.C. Momma fixed me a lunch for the trip and late that first night I was sworn in by the recruiter in Birmingham. As the train rattled across country through the night I had plenty of time to regret my haste, especially when it started backing across the swampland into the base. Seems a guy might want to run away when the Drill Instructor (DI) really got on his case, but that gator-filled swamp was between him and freedom, so he usually stayed put and took his punishment. One guy was smoking during prohibited time and ended up with three lit cigarettes and a bucket over his head until he vomited.
We started out with 66 recruits and as they fell by the way the DI told us they only wanted 50. We marched with heavy back packs in that hot South Carolina humidity until we dropped, one by one.We ran for miles with heavy M-1 rifles held out in front until we thought our arms would fall off. I did it all but I was especially good on the rifle range. Toward the end we still had 51 and we told the DI that was it. The rest were going all the way and if he only wanted 50 he would have to shoot one of us. I can’t swear that such a thought did not enter his mind.
Upon graduation our group started splitting up. A number headed straight for Camp Pendleton, CA but I was retained for a month or so to serve as an Instructor on the rifle range. Of course I made it home as often as possible and sometimes when I shouldn’t have. Once I hitchhiked almost across Georgia before getting stuck and calling home for rescue. Dad was into his usual Friday night six-pack so new driver Betty had to drive all the way to pick me up. What a great family.
That fall I stood at the end of Highway 80 which crossed the entire continent and a little later I was at the other end at Camp Pendleton, near San Diego. Here we underwent advanced training for shipment to Korea, which was really tough stuff, but I really enjoyed my leave times in this most different part of the world. My buddies and I did Tijuana, the wine country, and Jose Iturbi’s house on a tour of the stars’ homes where he and his sister played twin pianos for us. I found a Mom and Pop diner where they actually dug up some bona fide grits and cooked them for me when they discovered I was an Alabama boy. Toward the end we got drunk and they finally threw us out of the drunk tank and escorted us to the edge of town with a “Don’t come back” Our loud singing was keeping all the prisoners awake and when we said “What are you going to do to us? We’re leaving for Korea this week”, they decided expulsion was the best route.
We traveled for many days across the Pacific and at one point they asked, “Do you want to see Hawaii?” Sure! “Well look north, that tiny speck on the horizon is it.” We were dropped off at Inchon Harbor and had to go down the ropes. What followed was about 15 months of hell, interspersed with a couple of R&Rs in Japan and three months on a Danish Hospital Ship, the Jutlander. While on the front we lived in cave-like bunkers and cooked in our helmets. I had a shell explode next to me which gave me a permanent buzzing in one ear. At the Battle of Vegas I was seriously wounded, carried out by stretcher, and flown to a MASH unit then to the ship.
What had happened was that the Army pulled out from both flanks during the night and the next morning ten thousand screaming Chinese and Koreans came over the hill with guns, knives, and pitchforks. They swept over our unit, already decimated by a barrage. My clothes were mostly blown away and I rolled down the hill into a trench. When they came over me one rolled me over and came down in my face with a rifle butt. When I woke on the ship I had wounds to my neck, back, arms, upper and lower legs, and a hole in my cheek I could stick my tongue through, which they later patched. I asked the doctor where they got the skin to patch my face and she said, “If you pass a chair and your face wants to sit down, you’ll know.” When I returned to the front I was down to 119 lbs.
My favorite pastime was poker and I kept the postal clerk nearby. When I got ahead $50 I would buy a money order and send it home to Mom. When I finally got home I had a nice nest egg. Our outfit lost 107 of 118 men so we had lots of replacements. Some of them came right out of jail in the big cities so we picked up a lot of “street” talent that really helped when we had to “midnight requisition” supplies from the Army. Every so often the office pogues in the rear would send up hot food by helicopter. The trouble was that it made several stops before reaching us on the very front and usually had nothing left but liver – unanimous last choice. One day Lt. Evans spoke to the helicopter pilot as he circled to land and said, “If you have liver on that plane we are going to shoot you down”. The pilot made a quick retreat without landing.
I was there when the truce was called and the talks began at Panmunjom. We patrolled our side of no-man’s land and they patrolled theirs. Occasionally someone would shoot but mostly the line was quiet. Of course this didn’t stop our patrols entirely and I was really frightened the night I went out just before coming home. I kept saying to myself, “Keep down, don’t be a hero tonight. Let’s get home in one piece.” Walking trench lines here and earlier I was glad I learned the Prologue to Canterbury Tales. Its rhythm and weird old English was great company to stay awake through the shift. One night it was freezing cold and the guy I replaced said “Nothing on your left. If it moves, shoot it.”
Hours later I heard something on the left and called “halt”. No answer. “Halt” again, no answer. I cocked my gun and prepared to fire when I heard a scratchy noise that sounded southern. It was Bones Haley from Tennessee. He had laryngitis and was screaming “don’t shoot” but I barely heard him in time. I think the hardest part was shooting women and children. The gooks would put grenades under their arms with the pin cocked and tell them to walk right up to us. When we told them to raise their hands, the grenades went off. We had to stop them before they reached us. Really sad.
We docked back in San Francisco and boy did that Golden Gate look great. I had played poker most of the way and was well ahead but lost it all in a last minute double or nothing. Easy come, easy go, I guess, but I sure could have used some of that when I had two suits tailor-made before heading home. My dad pulled a good one. He called from Montgomery and got headquarters wanting to know when I would arrive. He said, “This is Major Ott and my son is on one of those ships. When will they dock?” The young Corporal snapped to and got the info requested right away to appease the “Major”. Dad enjoyed that story many times. As I disembarked I was pulled out of line and told to go call my Dad right away.
Mom and Dad met me at the plane in Birmingham. Now I had been gone mostly for three years and had hardly ever sneezed. That ended as we rounded the curve by Maxwell and several years of severe sinus attacks began. I arrived home on Saturday, April 30, 1954. By Sunday I already wanted to get out and see a movie, which has been my favorite entertainment all my life. The problem was having to go alone. My friends had scattered, the girls I dated were off at college or married. So I asked Wee Boy (my brother Lee) who I could take to see a movie. He suggested a girl he knew by the name of Ruth Mitchell. I called her and asked her for a movie date. When I arrived at her parents home on Winona, two girls were in the living room – Ruth and Valeria. I wasn’t sure which one was my date but Ruth got up to meet me and I saw what a beauty I was going out with. Valeria was already married and had a baby but she was mighty pretty too.
I drove aimlessly all over town and finally asked Ruth what she wanted to do. She said the movies were back downtown. (That began the longest relationship of my life, which still includes my driving aimlessly at times until she finally asks, “Hon, where are you going?” Then we get back on track.) That was Sunday, on Tuesday, I called her again and she had two boys visiting from California. One was Buddy Buckel, Uncle Buck’s cousin whom she had met out in Lamesa. We all four went to Cordell’s and the boys quizzed me about Korea. We must have sat there for over an hour with me rattling on. When we left Buddy was driving with Ruth and me in the back. She snuggled to my side and looked up at me with those big brown eyes. I was a goner.
We dated almost every night for the next few months and became engaged on October 15th. We married on February 3, 1955, several months before she finished high school but her mom relented with the agreement we would stay with them until she graduated in May. By May Cathey was on the way and I was getting ready to stop roofing and go to Auburn in June, so Miss Ruth put on maternity clothes in the fall while I was joined in college by her 1955 classmates. She later admitted to some resentment but I didn’t know it at the time. I lived on Toomer Street in a small duplex with several other vets who were broke just like me, since we were all living on the GI bill.
Cathey arrived in December and we finally found a cottage, not much bigger than a doll’s house, to rent in Notasulga. We packed up our little goods and planned to move in March 1, 1956 but Dad and I decided to open Major Roofing Company so I dropped out of school in March and we began the exciting adventure of having our own company. We all worked hard with Dad selling, me running the office and doing sheet metal as needed, and Lee, Grover, Alvie and William roofing, with the help of some crews. My sister, Betty Cobb was our secretary part of the time.
We rented Dad’s old house at 300 Chisholm Street and for several years Mom and Ruth had new roofing equipment in lieu of Easter dresses, but it was a good time. We helped start Blue Gray Civitan and Civinette clubs and I joined Ruth’s church, the Cloverdale Church of Christ. A short dumpy little black woman named Virginia came once a week and did our ironing and Ruth cooked three meals a day and kept house. We paid rent there for 2 ½ years. Cathey was able to play in Mom’s back yard on a swing set they bought for her and Mike, the first two grandchildren who were both born in December 1955. During these years Ruth spent time with Momma Ott –mornings shelling peas and afternoons watching soaps.
In December of 1957 Ruth found she was pregnant with Jay II so we began looking for a home of our own. We built a tiny house at 2030 Windsor Avenue in Capitol Heights. Jay II came on August 21st and I got help to move us while Ruth recovered at her Mom’s house from the delivery. Betty came over and did the kitchen, while Ruth sat on the couch in our new living room and directed boxes to the correct rooms. The house was tiny but we later built a large den on the back so we had a place to live. That first fall a neighbor who was only 37 walked in the kitchen one morning and dropped dead of a massive heart attack. It changed our lives forever, because Ruth suddenly realized that I did dangerous work and she could be left with two children to raise and nothing but a high school diploma. Our friends, Luther and Louise Bozeman insisted she make application to First National Bank, which she did in January. They hired her on the spot. The next Monday Ruth reported to work and a sweet young black woman named Martha came to keep the babies. Martha had bangs and big brown eyes and the garbage collectors gave us wonderful service after she came.
Martha cooked lunch for me every day and by my eating home with the children, Ruth and I both knew the house was running okay. Martha made wonderful chicken and rice, cornbread, and sweet potato pudding. The only drawback was that she feared bad weather and left us for years with two little ones that jumped into our standard size bed every time it stormed at night.
In 1960 we bought 3 acres in Blue Ridge Estates and in 1962 we built our new split-level home there. Ruth left the bank and stayed home for 9 months but Major Roofing Company got into trouble and we decided we needed her income. She admitted she was much better off working but hated being in Montgomery while our kids were in school in Wetumpka. Cathey had to be on that bus by 3:30 every day. Any activity, like Brownies and band practice, required us to find her a ride to Blue Ridge. In 1965 we bought back in town and moved our kids to 3049 Biltmore, from which they could walk to school, the Y and the dentist the rest of their growing-up years. We hired Lubertha fulltime for awhile and later for once a week cleanups. William’s wife did our ironing when Lubertha was ill. Ruth doesn’t iron. Lovely girl, lots of talent, but ironing isn’t one of them.
Our company grew steadily over the first 8 years and then we lost our shirts on three jobs in Georgia. For the next three years I beat a dead horse and finally in April of 1967 I told them it was no use, so I was going back to school. Dad and Lee fought it for 3 more months, and in August they allowed the filing for bankruptcy to go forward. We went through law suits for another 18 months and lost all of them. Ruth and I never felt so helpless. A strong desire to have a lawyer in the family was born during this time. The frustration almost put me in the hospital and gave her an ulcer, but we managed to survive. I went back to Auburn, commuted daily, and worked construction jobs in the afternoon. I graduated in December of 1969 at the age of 38 and Ruth left the bank in January to go to AUM fulltime.
Our church friend Bill Pugh was Deputy Commissioner of Pensions and Securities and several years earlier had encouraged me to switch to social work and come with the department, which I did right after graduation. The next August P&S sent me off to the University in Tuscaloosa to get my Master of Social Work, which I gladly received in May of 1972, right after I turned 40. As soon as I got into graduate school Ruth went back to work at Capitol National Bank where her friend Feagin Rainer was President. She continued her schooling at night. She only had about 15 minutes at home and we didn’t want the kids to eat junk so I became a fairly good cook during those years – at least when I was home. She got her BS in 1975, a few months after she had also turned 38.
Those were hard but heady years as we both got educated and raised our children at the same time. I know at times they resented our lack of money and time to devote to their childhood years, but I believe they were somewhat proud of their degree-earning parents. One thing we taught them for sure, one is never too old to learn. In November of 1977 we went riding in a new neighborhood called Fox Hollow and spotted a house we both liked. We moved in February of 1978, a month before Cathey finished Auburn and Jay married Janet McCullough. We left them in the house and Cathey stayed a few more months until she got transferred to Birmingham with the ABC Board Enforcement Division. She was a NARC. Jay and Janet moved into Biltmore for a while and divorced, just short of their second anniversary.
While going to Auburn I began painting abstracts and my friend Esther Sims talked me into joining the Montgomery Art Guild. I truly enjoyed these years and the new friends but stopped painting when I was put into administration. After serving as president I went with some of the crew down to the Little Theater to paint scenery for “My Three Angels”. Again I got involved with great new friends and eventually appeared in 13 Little Theater productions. I enjoyed small roles with little dialogue to learn and was quite a scene-stealer in several, they tell me. When this group tried to put me in administration I slowly withdrew. I later became a “has-been thespian” after Little Theater closed.
About this time we also began 15 years of owning rental houses with all the accompanying painting, scrubbing, and fixing up which that entails. We took a mortgage out on Biltmore and bought three more rentals to start; and over the years owned, rented, and resold ten or more. We could do this because we sold the lake cabin we had built from the ground up, and used the money to pay down on 4606 Chrystan Road and buy some new furniture. We brought very little with us to the new house so when Jay divorced we had a huge cleaning out to do in order to rent Biltmore to strangers.
In 1981 Ruth took the LSAT and went off to Tuscaloosa to become a lawyer and Jay II went to Auburn. I was in charge at home by myself and working hard on LOMA, a small company several men and I had launched in December of 1980. Ruth said later that she considered the equity in Biltmore to be her back-up money and when I gave it for collateral for the LOMA loan; she quickly lost interest in law school. Actually, I think homesickness may have played a bigger part than she realized, but I promised that someday I would repay to us all the money my failed projects had cost us. Anyway, she came back home in 1982 and I built an apartment for her mother on our home. Nonnie moved in March of 1983, shortly before she turned 80. During the years that followed we paid off big debts from LOMA and from my essay into playing the stock market, so these days were not all roses. Ruth got back on with the state in January of 1983 and in time bought back her retirement. It was the wisest move she ever made. By this time I had been at Medicaid for several years and went through hell when they eliminated my job and I had to return to Human Resources at a much lower rank. But things looked up in 1985 when Jay married Karen Sledge and began a whole new life. In 1986 Miss Rachel arrived, Cathey married Jim Watts, and we put a swimming pool and Jacuzzi in the back yard. As the grandchildren quickly arrived, we enjoyed many weekends with big Grandmere-meals, babies all over, and Nonnie watching from her porch. Life was good again..
I tried to get Ruth to go on to Jones Law School but she said she didn’t really like law all that well so why didn’t I go? She entered a Master of Psychology program at AUM and after much trepidation, I entered Jones. When Ruth first broached the idea that I might study law I was overwhelmed at the idea of passing the test to enter, much less the courses. By this time I was well past 50 and had never been a good test taker or writer, for that matter. This hill looked mighty steep. If I had only known how steep that hill would be, I might never have tried. But I was really fed up with P&S, now called Human Resources, and the idea of becoming an attorney fascinated me. In the meantime Jay moved to Georgia and Cathey to Prattville and what we mostly did was work and study. In December 1989 I was taking my first law school semester finals on the same night Ruth got her Masters Degree. By this time we had Nonnie’s sister, Coralee King, staying with her most of the day.
The next year (1990) we took another huge step. We bought Watson Circle property with an old house in which we would have to survive for several years until I finished law school and we had the mortgage paid down. We lost Ruth’s Mom less than a year after we moved (July 30, 1991), then my Mom (September 9th) and then I had open heart surgery in October. Both Moms were in their 80’s and quality of life had diminished greatly but Ruth always felt that the move was a factor in her Mom just giving up. Meanwhile I was in the middle of a law semester with exams in December and unable to hear lectures. What followed was probably one of the most gratifying periods of my life. Friends and almost strangers went out of their way to get me the lessons, teachers forgave my many absences, and good wishes poured in from my co-workers all over the state. I graduated in May, 1992, right after my brother Lee and Little Ed Robbins finished the new garage.,
We were ready to start the new house in August of 1993. Early that summer a grape-sized knot developed high on my left inside thigh and we removed it. They called us in August for the results and they said it was fine so we broke ground for the house. In October the surgeon called us back and said a late report from Houston said the sample had the characteristics of metastasized melanoma and we were sent to Dr. Urist at UAB. Urist found no primary spot and said “Good luck. I’ll probably never see you again.” We celebrated all the way home, stopped at the Peach Park near Clanton and got huge ice cream cones. We struggled through the building process all fall and when nothing was done the whole month of November, Ruth almost freaked. After tearing up flooring in the old house to complete the new floors, we finally finished the house and moved in February 1994. Since our builder Don Little and I both took the bar exam that month, actually getting into the house at the same time was quite iffy but we made it. In late March we threw a great “law-school friends” party and really loved having everyone. Chris Pettus from New Orleans cooked shrimp etoufee on our new stove and made a mess but Ruth finally got it cleaned up and the christening of our new home was rated a great success.
In June another knot came up and we did a repeat. First okay, then nope. This time they took a scan which showed something scattered throughout both sides of my liver and we carried the scan with us to Birmingham. We met with Dr. Donald Miller, the “Melanoma Man” of the southeast. At that time chemotherapy was not considered effective for Melanoma but we didn’t know that. Dr. Miller was a Chemist and a Doctor and was on the cutting edge of using it that way. All we knew is that he was warm and wonderful and gave us hope. He said I had a 50-50 chance and I’ve always been a gambler. He also said I could take the chemo in Montgomery so we scheduled a visit the next Monday to a young doctor Coralee knew.
Dr. Taylor told me I had a few months to live and taking chemo might extend my life another month or two. Ruth said I almost came off the table. We were to start the chemo on Thursday. On Tuesday we were having lunch at Martin’s and the owner there, whom we had seen in Birmingham taking her husband for treatment, stopped by our table to visit. We chatted about how wonderful Birmingham was. We spent a sleepless night and next morning Ruth asked me if I wouldn’t rather go back to UAB for my chemo. We decided on the spot to do just that and thus began six months of traveling to Birmingham once a month, checking in on Tuesday, and checking out on Thursday. They ran the chemo three times. On our first trip I had spaghetti from their kitchen on Tuesday night for supper. For years afterward just a whiff of that particular blend of Italian spices would make me nauseous. I still don’t like to smell them so Ruth makes me Hungarian goulash.
I was scheduled to take the bar again the last week of July before I started the chemo and of course I failed. Ruth tried to get me not to take it but I told her that studying for the bar was the only thing keeping me sane. Several months into the chemo I was dragging bottom. They put me in Jackson Hospital for 23 hours once in November to give me platelets, and in December I had to give myself 10 shots of a miracle drug which was very expensive but which allowed me to halfway participate in Christmas.
The next spring I was declared cured, something of a miracle. I give credit to wonderful family support, Dr. Miller’s team, and my chiropractor. While I was working for Major Roofing Company in the late 50’s or early 60’s I had a visit with Dad’s lake cabin neighbor, Dr. Gay, a chiropractor from Alex City. He said he could help my sinus problem and he did. At the time we had a big job going in Alex City so it was convenient, but when the job finished, Ruth’s Aunt Ruth Garvin recommended Dr. Charles Wimpee in town . The chiropractic treatment not only helped my sinus problem, but Ruth and I both went fairly regularly over the next 50 years. I digress to say this because I believe to this day that Wimpee helped me beat the cancer. He not only kept my body in good shape to fight this demon off, he also told me it might not even be cancer, since I didn’t exhibit any of the other symptoms of his patients with cancer. To this day I believe that my secret belief that I did not really have cancer, helped me to stay upbeat and positive and cheerful through most of the ordeal and was probably a solid factor in my recovery.
The team at UAB was so in sync that I am sure their attitude also played a strong role. One female intern from Connecticut let it slip once about the attitude of other doctors re chemo not helping melanoma. Ruth caught it, I didn’t. She got so upset and kept it inside so as not to frighten me, that she ended up with diverticulitis-induced bleeding and they put her in UAB hospital also. Cathey and Valeria drove in from the beach to take us home on Friday. We were afraid I would be released earlier but getting upset about my best buddy had me running a fever so we both got out at the same time.
After chemo I had five years of follow-up scans which always showed practically nothing left in my liver. I asked Dr. Miller if he thought I had really had cancer and he said considering how much stuff disappeared with the chemo he was 99% sure. At my 4th year follow-up he was gone, having taken a good opportunity in Louisville, KY. So for my 5th year checkup Ruth and I drove to Louisville to see him. We needed closure, and we needed to thank him for the wonderful support he gave so plentifully. He was glad to see us and took me all over the clinic introducing me as his star patient. He said I was his first patient to completely recover with only chemo – no surgery.
Eleven years later we went through this double ordeal again – bypass surgery followed by cancer. I had had several small nodes removed in the interim but the cancer cells were always contained in the node. In other words my body was strong enough to seal them off. It was not until my heart flagged again that the ensuing weakening allowed the cancer to take hold. This time it was my colon. The heart surgery was in August and the colon surgery in Bham on November 1, 2004. Eighteen inches of colon was removed and my life was changed forever. I and the john became close companions after every meal. Dad always said “You don’t own beer, you just rent it”. Well I never again owned food for long. At least it helped me keep my weight down but that’s about the only positive I can infer from this second round.
Back to the first round. After I recovered I once again took the bar and passed it in 1995. I retired from the state the next year and opened my private practice of law in Buddy Hale’s building, 631 South Perry where I remain today, 2010. Having my law practice is a dream of many years come to fruition. For over two years our son Jay has been with me and I now have two young lawyers with whom to associate cases and for whom I offer stability, knowledge, and clients. This is the end of this brief chronological recounting of 78 years. In addition I would like to discuss some other aspects of my life – indeed of any life.
There are several of these. One time was when I realized what I had done to myself by joining the Marines. Two more came when I first faced enemy fire in Korea and when I made my last patrol before coming home. I was praying both times but that last one I remember saying “Please don’t let me get hit tonight.” And I guess the other would be when I was diagnosed with cancer and the Montgomery doctors looked like they were measuring me for a coffin.
One would definitely be when I marched across the parade ground at Parris Island and knew that I had made it through with honor. The day I married Ruth ranks high and also the day we opened Major Roofing Company and we knew we actually had our very own company. Of course the births of both children were great but Jay was probably the most enjoyed. With Cathey we had been into this for 30+ hours, I was trying to study for my Auburn classes at the hospital, and had passed out and was sleeping deeply when they came through and said “Mr. Ott, you have a little girl.” It took me a while to wake up and realize that she was really here and I had to wait several hours until they opened the nursery curtains to see her again. I had convinced everyone, including Ruth, that this baby was a boy, but I was so happy she was safe. Once I saw that sweet little face I was a goner, and she has been “my girl” ever since. It was so different with Jay. Ruth’s water broke at breakfast – surely interrupted that meal, we went to the doctor at 10:00, he sent us to the hospital about 11:30, I sat with Ruth and talked with her until late afternoon, she popped into hard labor about 5:00 o’clock and Jay arrived at 5:50. Ruth was back awake at 7:00 and ready to go home long before they released her the next week. As I said, this time I was wide awake and mighty excited to get that boy. Funny how it works out. Although he and I are close and loving, he is really Ruth junior. We also had several exciting moments during my health ordeals, mostly when they would say “you are fine”. Of course I was ecstatic when I passed the bar and the day I was sworn in as an attorney and knew I had realized my dream. Jay Ott, fall of 2010
THE REST OF THE STORY
– written October of 2012 by Ruth Ott
Jay and I worked on the preceding story over a period of several months and then dropped writing for the holidays. Afterwards, in January of 2011, Jay went to his skin doctor for a look-see and Jay Smith made him an appointment in February with Dr. Harmon for mohs treatment of spots on his face and neck. During surgery at the right base of his neck Jay said he felt his shoulder slide back on the table. The surgery at the inside corner of his left eye was extensive and involved pulling some skin over to close; but it was the neck that ruined him. It was deep so Harmon just took a biopsy and closed. We will never know what he cut in there but Jay’s shoulder dropped down permanently and was painful from then on. The next months were filled with pain from his shoulder and hip. All the doctors would say was “It’s just arthritis”. Funny, he never had it before.
Later we returned to Dr. Conry at Acton Road for regular follow-up and he found that Jay’s cancer had grown tumors all over his body. None in organs but too many to excise. We first tried Temador for three months without effect. Jay was tested for drug trials but could not qualify for the BRaf study due to some blockage in his carotid artery. I called Dr. Miller and will forever regret that I didn’t take him up on his offer to refer Jay to Vanderbilt, where they knew the drug approval was imminent and were taking everyone. Instead we opted to use radiation to reduce the spots so he could wait for the new drug. Without consulting us, Dr. De los Santos decided to shoot the lymph glands above the neck/shoulder tumor and the angle got the rays into Jay’s mouth. Without looking in his mouth to see his gold inlay, the technician only asked if he had anything that was removable. Even when Jay complained that his throat was getting terribly sore, they didn’t stop and call the doctor. The rays ricocheted off the gold and burned up his mouth and throat. He lost 30 pounds and his ability to fight.
The new drug Zelboraf was released in the fall and worked everywhere except else except by then then the cancer entered his brain, where Zelboraf was unable to penetrate the blood brain barrier. Jay worked almost to the end. We stopped by his office on Friday, August 17th to check a few things before picking up friends for lunch. Sunday night Jay fell in the bathroom and broke his hip and died on August 25th, the following Saturday.
After nearly 60 years with my sweetheart, I am now alone and must survive on my memories of a wonderful, upbeat, goal-setter, and warm human being who accomplished so much in his life and who lived fully right up to the end. Almost 300 family and friends attended his funeral. The audience consisted of classmates at Lanier, cast members from Little Theater Productions, Art Guild members, courthouse staff and attorneys, Jones Law School officials and staff, Human Resources co-workers, neighbors, his chiropractor, members of the League of Women Voters and the Montgomery Genealogical Society, Kiwanis officials and some of the almost 1000 clients he had helped during his 16 years in law. About 40 people visited the house, and about 150 sent cards with wonderful notes of praise or made contributions in his memory. Jay was such a special person. He will live in my heart forever.