Feeding Body & Soul

Published: Sunday, December 7, 2014

For many reasons, Henry Braselton felt gratified to attend the ground-breaking ceremony for the new hospital that was going up just down the road from his home-place.

Braselton, the town that bears his family name, may be classified as an exurb of metro Atlanta now, but with a population hovering around 8,000 in its rolling hills, it still feels rural, and it still requires at least a half-hour drive to Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville. As a lifelong public servant and one of the regional visionaries on the hospital’s board, Henry Braselton wanted better access to medical care for his community, which had long benefited from his charitable nature in other ways, large and small. This hospital, along with his work for education, conservation, and jobs creation, not to mention the countless bags of meat and vegetables (and “candy not by the piece but by the sack-full,” Fant says) the businessman-grocer had provided, would be one more sustaining gift for his neighbors and their children.

“He was so excited to be present for that ceremony,” recalls his daughter, Susan Fant, of the cornerstone christening at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton in 2009. He was struggling with health issues of his own, though, and just a couple of months later, died of a brain tumor.

The longtime civic leader will not see the 100-bed hospital he helped to bring to town when its automated doors swing open this spring. However, his legacy of compassion will linger in its bricks and mortar, just as his name designates a special place within it: His family’s generous gift to The Medical Center Foundation has made possible the Henry Edward Braselton Chapel.

“My father would probably be very uncomfortable to know there is a chapel named after him,” Fant says, with a chuckle. “That just wasn’t his style. He preferred to work behind the scenes, never seeking attention, status, or credit. He was an extremely modest, calm sort of man who treated everyone with equal kindness, regardless of their backgrounds or standing.”

All the more reason to honor him with this particular memorial, says his wife, Janice Martin Braselton. “The chapel exemplifies what was important in Henry’s life – his love for Jesus and the way Jesus taught us to live,” she says. “Henry did his best to follow that example every day.” ┬áThe tastefully appointed room, located in a main corridor on the ground floor, provides a sanctuary with light filtered through stained glass and a soothing water feature for patients, visitors, doctors, nurses, staff, and anyone else needing a moment to reflect or a breath of fresh prayer. The soft lighting, the quiet, and the inclusive feeling of welcome – all of those qualities perfectly suit Braselton’s congenial, low-key approach, as does the comfort found in faith, the idea of healing carried out by unseen hands. Braselton was a Sunday School teacher and superintendent at Zion Baptist Church.

“If there was anything worthwhile going on, Henry was involved in it, reliably and honorably – you could set your watch by whatever he told you,” says Abit Massey, president emeritus of the Georgia Poultry Federation, of his longtime friend who served as mayor of Braselton from 1988 to 2001 and held leadership roles in the town council for more than 40 years. “To twist around a Will Rogers line, I never met a person who didn’t like Henry, from farmhands to heads of state.”

Henry Braselton was the son of one of the “Three B’s,” the founding trio of brothers who helped incorporate the town in the 1880s, with a country store – “mostly snuff and crackers,” Fant says – that grew into a conglomerate of banking, dry goods, and groceries, with plenty of chocolates on hand. During the 1960s, when he was a teen-ager, Ralph Richardson went to work bagging for the cashiers. “Hundreds of times, Henry would send me out into town to deliver free boxes of groceries to people in need, along with big bags of candy and five-dollar bills,” says Richardson, getting choked up at the memory. “I was from a very poor family, and many nights I would’ve gone to bed hungry without help from Henry. The value of a man lies not in what he receives, but in what he gives. None of us could ever repay Henry for what he has given our community.”

In that spirit, Fant says her family is checking into whether the chapel might also offer an ongoing supply of complimentary candy – a sweet reminder of Henry Braselton’s generosity.