Sunday, November 27, 2011

Jolly Snowden, 1918-1989

Crumpton Leonard "Jolly" Snowden
My son, Ross Parman, posted this photo of his grandfather, Jolly Snowden, a resident of Arch Street in the 1980s. Described accurately at his funeral as a larger-than-life figure, Jolly was the namesake of his parents, sharing their first and last names. His father, Crumpton Snowden, was the scion of a Revolutionary War land grant family, gentry, in Andalusia, Alabama. His mother, Effie May Leonard, was the daughter of dirt farmers in the same community. She turned the family around. Like the minor aristocracy in France, the Snowdens were in steep decline by the time Crum was born, although he reportedly retained an aristocrat's disdain for ordinary work. Selling the farm, he moved the family to rural Miami, where Jolly and his 14 siblings were raised. George, the oldest of the Snowden cohort, was independent enough by the time he was 10 that a bank in Andalusia made him the cosigner for his daddy's loan. (George went on to run a country store outside Miami that made him a small fortune.) These were self-made men: Jolly and his brother Charles were both All-Americans for the Miami Hurricanes, playing football to get an education. Their high-school paper routes provided the family with cash. Charles became a Florida state senator and judge, while Jolly built Ryder Trucks into a national force, first in Florida and New York, and then in California. In the early 1940s, he worked for Pan Am in the Congo. In those days, the Brazil-to-Congo route via Ascension Island was the fastest route by plane across the Atlantic. In 1941, Jolly was made an officer in the Army and put in charge of the liquor, which was constantly slipping on to the Black Market. "If you sent me to the Congo, I bet I could still find some of the Scotch I hid," he once told me. It was there that he met his wife, Betty O'Rourke, who was broadcasting in French to expat Belgians and French in Africa. She still lives on Arch Street in the building that she and Jolly bought for their daughters, Kathy and Laurie Snowden, when they couldn't find an apartment while attending UC Berkeley. Jolly had cancer in the late 1960s, for which he was treated with radiation. It bought him 20 years. A heart attack in the hospital in 1988 stopped his heart, but his doctors revived him, condemning him to six months on a respirator, a terrible ordeal. They thought they could save him, but his immune system was shot. A cautionary tale.

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