Skillet passes: Longtime community volunteer and Reporter columnist dies at age 94

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 7, 2002

In his almost century of life, Skillet Bird told thousands of stories. He didn’t have an answer, though, for the one he was asked about the most.

He didn’t know how he came to be called Skillet.

&uot;Don’t know if I ever really knew,&uot; Skillet, who’s real

name was George Milton Bird, would say with a smile. &uot;I got it when I was knee-high to a grasshopper.&uot;

Skillet Bird &045; community volunteer, longtime Reporter columnist and friend to all &045; died May 6. He was 94.

He was a dispenser of wisdom and scuppernongs, sharing stories of everyday life from his uniquely simple point of view.

The funeral is planned for 4 p.m. on Thursday at First United Methodist Church in Columbiana. He will lie in state at the church from 2-4 p.m. Thursday. Burial will follow the service at Columbiana Cemetery.

Around Columbiana, Shelby and all of South Shelby County, words of affection are pouring in for the elderly man who drove the little purple truck.

&uot;He was one of our biggest fans,&uot; Karen Rushton, cheerleading coach for Shelby County High School said. &uot;He got his picture made with us every year. It was tradition.&uot;

Columbiana Mayor Allan Lowe said Skillet defined what made this area of Shelby County so special.

&uot;He was a force that kept us in touch with the past &045; a simple day with charm. He wouldn’t let us forget about the bright side no matter how hectic we became. You can’t think of Columbiana or Shelby without thinking about Skillet.&uot;

Others recalled his tireless work in the community, the same work that earned Skillet President George Bush’s Thousand Points of Light Award in 1992.

&uot;He spent a lifetime working to help other people,&uot; friend John Jones said. &uot;He would go to a hospital to visit people when he himself was sick. I remember when he was fighting cancer a few years ago. He would visit the older people in the nursing home and the hospital. They knew they could expect him.&uot;

Born Oct. 6, 1907, Skillet was a 1921 graduate of Columbiana Public Grammar School. His first brush with the newspaper world was in the 1920s, when he began selling subscriptions to The Birmingham Post-Herald, which he affectionately referred to for the rest of his days by its previous name, The Birmingham Age-Herald.

It was during his subscription-selling days that Skillet wrote a column that attracted the attention of then Reporter-editor Mildred White Wallace.

He began writing his Reporter column, Good Morning, in 1931, after stints as a school teacher and bookkeeper.

In 1981, 54 of his most memorable works were published in the book &uot;The Best of Good Morning.&uot; It can still be found at libraries and book stores in Shelby County. A review of the work -a good one – even found its way to the pages of The New York Times.

He was never paid for his columns. Instead, he would drop by the office, pick up an armful of papers and deliver them to people in nursing homes.

&uot;Never have got a nickel for it,&uot; he said in an interview earlier this year. &uot;But it don’t bother me. It’s a talent.&uot;

Skillet’s life wasn’t all about writing. In between dispensing his pearls of wisdom, Skillet worked at the Shelby Post Office for 25 years, retiring in 1967. He also served in World War II, working at a convalescent hospital in Denver, Colo. He married at age 37 and is survived by a host of adopted children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

He was a lifelong member of Columbiana First Untied Methodist Church, but loved to drop in on Union Baptist, Good Hope Baptist, Shelby First Baptist and South Shelby Baptist, especially if a gospel singing was going on.

His work will continue through the Columbiana Christmas Children’s Fund, renamed the Milton &uot;Skillet&uot; Bird fund in the early ’90s. Skillet would often be seen, red bucket in hand, collecting for the fund, which would pay for Christmas gifts for needy children in the South Shelby area. Members of Columbiana United Methodist’s Men’s Group are continuing that work and that’s how it should be, according to longtime friend Lanice Brasher.

&uot;For years and years he collected money for the Christmas fund. Rain or shine, he collected money for those kids,&uot; she said. &uot;I envision that charity lasting for many years to come.&uot;

Reporter staff writer Perry Pearson contributed to this report