Red John Puryear
died this afternoon at about 2:00.
My boss, Lee Pake, ate lunch with him at Indian Hills at about 1:30.
The last thing Red John said to Lee was,"I'm going home to take a nap."
The entire block across the street from us here on University Boulevard is owned by Red John's best friend, Dr. Phillip Lamoureux.
I really don't even want to think about how the Lamoureux's are taking this.
We loved you Red John.
You were one uv us!
Please pray for the Puryear family right now.
Thank the Good Lord that
Ben Windham published this article on Sunday in the Tuscaloosa News:10th STREET HAD UA MARKET CORNERED
Future Gov. Albert Brewer worked the cash register. Near the jukebox, Joe Namath held court as young women stared, spellbound. E.O. Wilson, who would go on to win two Pulitzer Prizes, popped in regularly.
John Puryear’s little drug/sundry store on 10th Street held the corner on cool in Tuscaloosa.
In fact, that was the name of the place: The Corner.
The store’s future is uncertain. When the lease expires, it becomes the property of the University of Alabama.
But Puryear, a former probate judge who turns 89 this month, still has a corner on memories that stretch all the way back to the store’s founding.
“It was 1945. I had just got back from the war and I was in law school. Bill Schuessler wanted me to go into business with him.
“I said, 'Well, I’m in law school.’
“And he said, 'Any time you have to study, I’ll take care of it.’
“And so we started," said Puryear, whose shock of red hair, long gone, earned him the nickname that stuck with him the rest of his life: “Redjohn."
It wasn’t much to begin with, just a little store on the margin of a big university campus.
A cafe called Piping Hot had done business there before Paul Malone redeveloped the block, constructing a beauty parlor, a bookstore and the place that would become The Corner.
“We didn’t know what to call it because 'Puryear-Schuessler’ just wasn’t going to get it. So a friend of his, Ruth Jones, said she’d been to Pennsylvania or somewhere and they had a place up there and it was called just The Corner.
“ 'The Corner.’. So we said, 'Well, OK, we’ll name it 'The Corner,’ " Puryear says.
If it was a perfect, if casually conceived, name. Not only did it suit the store physically -- it was on a corner of 10th Street (now Paul W. Bryant Drive)-- but it also was one of the few stores of its kind that catered directly to the university community.
It delivered, too.
“We sold Kotex and Kleenex and toothpaste, and we had six little delivery boys on bicycles," Puryear says. “The sororities and dormitories were right there. And we just sold the heck out of stuff, delivering it to the girls."
At one point, The Corner sold more Kotex than any single store in Alabama. Puryear and Schuessler bought it and other necessities by the truckload.
“The little ol’ delivery boys, we’d pay 10 cents an hour, I think it was, but they made a lot more money in tips," Puryear says. “They just fought for the job.
“And I used to worry so much -- like on a Sunday night and it’d be raining like everything and they’d be out there on their bicycles. But they loved the rainy nights because they got bigger tips."
What really made The Corner cool for students, however, was what Puryear calls “the money situation."
“Banks in those days didn’t open until 10 o’clock and they closed at 2. Students didn’t have a chance to cash their checks.
“So we started doing that and it got to be a big business. It just drew customers like crazy.
“Then they caught on to -- like they could come in and write a check and they had no money in the bank until the first of the month. And they’d bounce checks.
“The bank didn’t care and the DA wouldn’t prosecute anybody, so we decided we’d really stop it," Puryear says. “We’d charge ’em 10 cents a check every time they bounced one.
“Late we went to a quarter, then to 50 cents," he says, laughing. “And now it’s $30. And the banks don’t like it now. They didn’t care then."
The worthless checks fees didn’t dampen The Corner’s popularity.
“On a weekend especially, we would cash a lot of money," Puryear says. “Twenty thousand dollars, $25,000 -- in $2 and $3 and $5 checks. It was amazing, back then."
The Corner became almost as much of a University of Alabama landmark as Denny Chimes.
“We hired students whenever we could," Puryear says. “Albert Brewer worked in there. Through college. He was cashier, manager at night. He was a great guy.
“And when he got to be governor, the probate office was open here -- it was ’68 -- and he appointed me probate judge. “
Puryear didn’t have much political experience, except for a pre-war campus campaign against George C. Wallace for president of The Cotillion Club. But Puryear did know the law, and Brewer knew he had the people skills to handle the probate office.
“I was there until ’78, when Hardy [McCollum] beat me," Puryear says. “And Hardy’s been there ever since."
His partner, Schuessler, had moved, so Puryear’s wife, Jane, managed The Corner during his years at the courthouse and later when he taught continuing legal education at the university. In 1982, Puryear’s son-in-law, Hugh Underwood, bought the business. He sold it to Lee Delchamps in 1997.
Regardless of who ran it, students always were the heart and soul of The Corner.
“Joe Namath was an interesting story," Puryear says. “He hung around in there off season. He’d be there every afternoon, holding court.
“Well, we had sandwiches and coffee and Cokes and things and we had a jukebox. I didn’t pay any attention but Namath played it all the time.
“So Harmon Looney came to change the records, which he did periodically, and he left. And Joe came up to me and -- honest, there were tears in his eyes.
“'What did you do with my record? I need my record.’ Just crying.
“I said, 'Well, we’ll get it back. What was it?’
“And he said, 'Cotton-Eyed Joe.’
“That was his record. He played it every day.
“After he graduated and went to play with The Jets and everything, I got that record and sent it to his mother. And she sent this picture back and a little letter that said when Joe came home, she played the record for him and he got a kick out of it."
Puryear shows a visitor the photo of the former Bama star in a Jets uniform. It has the autographs of both Namath and his mother, Rose.
“E.O. Wilson, he was another customer," Puryear says. “Albert Brewer remembered him well. He told me that E.O. would come in on his bicycle and get an apple every day."
The regimen must have agreed with the bright young student of natural history. Wilson, Pellegrino research professor in entomology for the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University, was selected as one of Time Magazine’s 25 Most Influential People in America in 1995.
Millard Fuller, who founded Habitat for Humanity International, and Morris Dees, who now heads the Southern Poverty Law Center, were customers. They also were business partners at the university.
“I claim I got ’em started," Puryear says.
Fuller and Dees hit gold by selling birthday cakes. They would mail “personalized" computer letters to mothers of UA students. The moms would supply the right date and the cash and Fuller and Dees would make sure their children got a cake on their birthday.
“But the first thing they sold was a calendar," Puryear says. “Sold it to businessmen. And I made ’em let me have the four corners -- to advertise The Corner.
“They got into millions of dollars later."
There were some disappointments, Puryear says.
“We had a break-in one time. I was telling you about the six little delivery boys. They stayed in the back room until we rang a bell for them to come, so they knew all about the back room.
“One time over the Christmas holidays, a couple of them broke into the fan ventilator up there -- lil’ bitty ol’ boys. They stole some stuff and of course, we called the police.
“I don’t know how they got ’em but the little boys said, 'We just wanted to get something for Christmas to give to our family.’ Saddest thing I ever heard.
“But the students were never a problem. They were wonderful."
And so are Puryear’s memories.
He figures when the lease on The Corner expires, the university will “tear it down as fast as it can. They just tore down Gertrude’s, you know."
But Puryear feels he still has a corner on the name.
“Delchamps, who bought it from Hugh Underwood in ’97
, has got four or five filling stations around town. And he calls them 'The Corner," Puryear said with a grin.
“It’s the change of an era. But the name’s still going."
Reach Editorial Editor Ben Windham at 205-722-0193 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.Hey ya'll:
Please check out my son Christopher's myspace site.http://myspace.com/178172075
Pretty kewl, huh!