Category Archives: About Rachel Gathany

The Blue Candles

Note from Tim Gathany for the Holiday Season:

The Blue Candles

This is a personal family story, but I felt it was appropriate for the Christmas and New Year Season since the attached poem illustrates the lives of Leon and Rachel Gathany in their Toccoa home.

When I lived in Pennsylvania, my family and I would often travel to Georgia for the holidays and spend Christmas with Leon and Rachel. One of my children’s favorite memories was arriving at their grandparents’ home in Georgia and seeing a candelabra in the front window lit with blue bulbs. The blue candles fascinated my oldest son, Nicholas, since he thought the blue lights were not the colors you would expect from candles.

Grandma Rachel had obtained the candelabra years ago when she lived in Pennsylvania and family friends were moving to Florida and downsizing. These Christmas decorations included many items that today would we considered vintage. Apparently, the donated candelabra always had blue candles and Rachel continued using this blue color for the bulbs in her several homes in Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Georgia.

These blue candles took on a special meaning for the family, as a memento of our visits to Georgia and the excitement of reuniting with my children’s grandparents. Even when we could not make the holiday trek to Georgia, the question in our telephone calls was always asked, “Are the blue candles in the front window?”

The poem was written in commemoration of those visits to Grandpa’s and Grandma’s home and the sights and events surrounding the holiday season. For example, Leon traditionally read the poem, “When Father Carves the Duck,” before we sang a seasonal hymn and were finally allowed to enjoy Rachel’s delicious holiday feast. Rachel would sit down at the piano to play and sing Christmas songs with her grandchildren.

Our visit would not be complete without a tour of the log barn to view the progress in restoring this vintage building and in organizing Leon’s mounted animal displays and other collections. Many of those items are now in the Leon & Rachel Gathany Museum of Natural History on the Toccoa Falls College campus.

Rachel wasn’t fond of one line in the poem, the one about gag gifts. However, she had a mischievous side to her and we expected that at least one family member would get a “white elephant” gift, something unusual that would cause much laughter.

So, whether or not you ever visited Leon & Rachel Gathany in their Toccoa home, read this poem and imagine you’re there during the holiday season. What would you see and hear?

The Blue Candles

Christmas 2004

Grandma’s in the kitchen
cooking pumpkin pie,
Grandpa’s getting wood
and stoking up the fire.
Later she’ll be singing
while her grandkids play along.
He’s got that duck poem ready for
the reading and the song.

Fox is playing loudly as
the talking heads profess.
Then there’s knocking at the door
from unexpected guests,
Still someone’s calling on the phone
with roadkill to be mounted.
There’s much to hear, see and learn
and blessing to be counted.

Outdoors the winter wild birds
feast and gladly sing
While compost sets the garden
right for the coming spring.
The chimney smoke paints
backdrops for this winter wooded view
And God watches over house and
barn and surely these precious two.

Inside the tree is lit and garnished with
their vintage memories.
The gag gifts have been chosen,
wrapped and placed beneath the tree.
They’re thinking of their loved ones
both near and far away.
Grandma’s blue candles are brightly lit
and everything’s OK.

Copyright 2004 TAG

Useful Again

Rachel Essie Pritchard Gathany was born on August 17, 1926 in rural Hart County, Georgia, the daughter of Rufus Almond and Flora Johnson Pritchard.  She went to meet the Lord on July 8, 2007 at Emory Hospital in Atlanta from complications associated with treatment of lymphoma.

Visitation will be at Whitlock Mortuary on Friday, July 13 from 7:00 to 9:00 PM.  The celebration of her life and home going to Heaven will occur on Saturday, July 14, 2007 at 2:00 PM at Grace Chapel at Toccoa Falls College.  Internment will be thereafter at Stephens Memorial Gardens.

After the death of her father when Rachel was three years old, her mother moved the family to Asheville, North Carolina in 1935.  Rachel graduated from Lee Edwards High School in Asheville.  In 1943 she entered Toccoa Falls Institute where she met her future husband, Leon Gathany.  On December 31, 1946 Rachel and Leon were married in Great Bend, Pennsylvania and moved to Nyack, New York where her husband completed his degree at Nyack Missionary College.

In 1948 Rachel and Leon moved to Birmingham, Alabama where Leon became the pastor of the North Birmingham Gospel Tabernacles and Rachel became a pastor’s wife.  In 1950, expecting their first child, Rachel and Leon moved to Great Bend, Pennsylvania where Leon became minister of the Great Bend Christian and Missionary Alliance Church.  While serving in Great Bend, Rachel and Leon had four children, Richard, Timothy, Rebecca and Deborah.

After eleven years in Pennsylvania and four years in Minnesota, Rachel and Leon returned to Toccoa Falls where Rachel completed her Bachelor of Science degree in 1972.  She continued on to the University of Georgia where she completed her Masters of Education in 1975.

She became the Director of the Stephens County Mental Retardation Service Center in 1973 and continued in that position until her retirement in 1988. She was a lifelong working mother, having always worked outside the home as an accountant, teacher and administrator.

In retirement she worked tirelessly with the local Association of Retarded Citizens, the Child Evangelism Fellowship, the Toccoa Falls Women’s Auxiliary, and other activities with the First Alliance Church of Toccoa where she was a member. In 2006 Mrs. Gathany and her husband received the Toccoa Falls College Alumni Association Service Award. She often assisted with her husband’s nature programs at Tugaloo State Park, schools and churches around the state.  She was a mother and grandmother figure to hundreds of children throughout the United States and perhaps the world.

Rachel Gathany is survived by her husband, Leon Gathany of Toccoa; two sisters, Bonnie Denson of Toccoa and Mary Haynes of Hudson, NC; a brother, Waymon Pritchard of Jacksonville, NC; four children, Richard Gathany of Stone Mountain, GA, Timothy Gathany of Kennett Square, PA, Rebecca Gathany-Bailey of John’s Creek, GA and Deborah Gathany-Keeney of Sandy Springs, GA; five grandchildren, Stephen and Nicole Gathany of Stone Mountain, Nicholas and Philip Gathany of Kennett Square, PA, and Erin Keeney of Sandy Springs, GA; two daughter-in-laws, Jessie Gathany of Stone Mountain, GA and Eleanor Gathany of Kennett Square, PA; two son-in-laws, Don Bailey of Johns Creek, GA and Rick Keeney of Sandy Springs, GA;  three step grandsons, Ricky Keeney, Andrew and Anthony Bailey; and a host of nieces and nephews.  She was preceded in death by two brothers, George Pritchard and Joseph Vaughan.

Memorials may be made to the Northeast Georgia Child Evangelism Fellowship or the Leon and Rachel Gathany Museum Foundation at Toccoa Falls College.

Speech and Poem at Service / Richard Gathany (Son)

Here is the text of my speech and original poem at the Celebration of the Life of Rachel Gathany

Hello and Greetings to you from the family of Rachel Gathany.

As most of you know I am Richard Gathany, the oldest son of Rachel and Leon Gathany, and was blessed to have been around my mother for over fifty-seven years.

This can be a solemn time as we reflect on the past few days. But we are here to celebrate the life and the home going to Heaven of Rachel Gathany. The family would like this time to honor Rachel Gathany and her accomplishments. We want to remember the wonderful and caring person that she was.

While we mourn our loss we must remember to rejoice that mother has lived her life to the fullest and has now entered Heaven. If we are a sad perhaps it is because we will not have her here to do those things that she once did for us.

Certainly we were all touched by her caring personality and her generosity. We received much benefit from being around her, by being near her. She was always asking if we needed something, if we were comfortable, if we were hungry. And if we had a need she would what she could to help.

She was always looking out for others and sometimes paid little attention to her own needs. When she was in the hospital she thought not about herself and that she might never return. She was concerned that she be able to serve others and desired to get better so that she could “be useful again.

So here is a small poem in tribute to my mother that expresses how I feel about her life and recent troubles.

Useful Again

Mother’s life was a message of service,
For her family, her church and the world.
Many were touched with her concern,
And thoughts and deeds for others,
She made herself useful again and again.

While mother was laid up with illness,
She told us to the very end,
That she had to soon get better,
And continue to serve others,
To make herself useful again.

So there is no doubt in our minds.
She has gone to a better place.
For she has gone to Heaven,
To be with God; and to serve,
And to make herself useful again.

This time is not for sorrow,
This time is not for pain.
For Mother has gone to Heaven,
To be with God; and to serve,
She has made herself useful again.

Copyright 2007, RSG

A Fitting Tribute

Note: The Gathany Museum is currently open by appointment. To schedule a tour click here on our –> Visit/Contact Us link.

Rachel connection to the Museum runs deeper than just her role as Leon’s wife. Like Leon, she served as an educator, teaching Business Math and substitute teaching at Toccoa Falls Academy. She was instrumental in raising significant funds for construction of the Museum, much contributed by her family. She traveled with Leon on his adventures which served as inspirations for the Nature Awareness programs he conducted for schools, civic clubs and state parks. Rachel assisted regularly in these programs and also presented several programs by herself using the mounted birds that are now displayed in the Museum.

Appropriately the Museum bears both Leon’s and Rachel’s names. Also, there is a special remembrance of her in the Museum building, that you will likely notice when you first enter the foyer of the Toccoa Falls College Outdoor and Environmental Education Center.

First some background…

Rachel’s father, Rufus A. Pritchard, passed away when Rachel was only three years old. He was the song leader for his church and for other area churches during revival services. The family was quite poor when Rufus died, so the grave was marked with simple white marble pieces, right next to the grave of another daughter that had died very young.

Years later Leon and Rachel met at Toccoa Falls College and embarked on a journey of service to the Lord through ministering and teaching. When Leon and Rachel returned to Georgia in 1964 to serve at Toccoa Falls, they visited the grave of Rachel’s father at the Bethany Baptist Church Cemetery in Hart County, Georgia. They discovered that the graves were not well marked, only with the original primitive markers that were now worn and dislodged.

Rachel and her sister, Bonnie, had the markers replaced with headstones and Leon kept the original white markers with the other rocks and stones he collected over the years. His collection of stone was eventually used in building a fireplace in the log barn Leon reassembled in the back yard of their Georgia home.

When the Museum building was under construction Bill Bryson, the general contractor, visited Leon’s barn and was fascinated by the fireplace. He proposed adding a similar fireplace to the foyer of the new building.

Leon offered stone from his pile and was able to acquire additional stone for the Museum fireplace. Also a sizable amount of Pennsylvania “blue stone” was donated for the fireplace by Leon’s cousins, Dick and Sandy Button. Charlie Denson (now deceased), son of Rachel’s sister Bonnie, transported the stone from the Pennsylvania quarry to Georgia in his pickup truck.

The marble stone markers from the grave of Rachel’s father were in Leon’s pile of leftover stone. Bill Bryson told Leon he had an idea about how to use it, but he wouldn’t divulge his plan to Leon.

As the Museum fireplace was constructed, Leon had the opportunity and pleasure of assisting in laying the stone. This experience was special for Leon, since it brought back many memories of his experiences working with stone.

Dad working on Museum fireplace

Bill Bryson’s secret was to cut the marble markers in half and construct a cross in the middle of the fireplace above the mantle. It was a beautifully executed idea. He also placed pinkish geodes, fashioned from bookends, at the bottom of the cross. Leon has said that the marble cross and geodes remind us of the blood that was shed for our sins.

 DSCF2056 (2)

The gorgeous mantle over the fireplace also has an interesting history. Bill Bryson’s neighbor lost a sizeable cherry tree during a storm the year that the fireplace was built. He visited the neighbor and asked what was going to be done with the tree. The neighbor intended to cut it up for firewood.  Mr. Bryson asked if he could take the tree off of his hands. The neighbor agreed and Bill was able to fashion several amazing mantles out of it for his clients, including the Museum.

When you visit The Leon and Rachel Museum of Natural History next time, stop to view the fireplace in the foyer and recall the special history and message it represents.