Highway 515 bridge named in memory of Billy Burnette

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Talking Rock resident was lifelong farmer, supporter of high school ag. program

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  • Above, family of Billy Burnette stand next to a new commemorative marker placed at the Highway 515 bridge over Talona Mountain Road last Friday. From left, front: Brett Burnette, Betty Hicks Burnette and Paula Holder; back: Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, Candace Poole, Stephanie Burnette, Bree Burnette, Bethany Burnette, Baylee Burnette, Holli Holder, Linda Burnette, Tommy Burnette, Cooper Poole and Brian Poole.
    Above, family of Billy Burnette stand next to a new commemorative marker placed at the Highway 515 bridge over Talona Mountain Road last Friday. From left, front: Brett Burnette, Betty Hicks Burnette and Paula Holder; back: Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, Candace Poole, Stephanie Burnette, Bree Burnette, Bethany Burnette, Baylee Burnette, Holli Holder, Linda Burnette, Tommy Burnette, Cooper Poole and Brian Poole.
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Family of Billy Burnette remembered the late longtime farmer’s hard work, generosity and neighborly personality after a Highway 515 bridge was dedicated in his name last Friday.

Georgia House Speaker David Ralston was on hand to unveil a commemorative marker naming the section of highway that passes over Talona Road Billy Burnette Memorial Bridge. 

Burnette with goats
Billy Burnette is pictured with goats on his farm sometime in the late 1990s

The dedication was proposed in 2019-20 Georgia House Resolution 1522.

“Mr. Burnette was a talented farmer and ... was passionate about teaching the next generation the value of farming,” the resolution states. 

 

Good neighbor, avid ag. supporter

Burnette raised cattle for many years in the Talona Road and Old Highway 5 areas, noted his brother and sister-in-law, Tommy and Linda Burnette.

“He was a lot of fun and a hard worker. He just knew everybody,” Linda said.

“He loved farming and loved his cows. He had 400 cows and could tell you every one of them. He could tell you if one was missing,” added Tommy. 

Burnette lived on and farmed several hundred acres in the Town Creek area of Talking Rock where he grew up. Tommy said farming was something he and his older brother did their whole lives. 

“The story is that our people started this in 1833. We were born and raised right here on this place, so was my daddy and my grandma and my great grandma,” he added. “We’ve always had cows. Our daddy used to go around and thrash wheat for people. We’d make meal and grind flour and daddy would sell it to people.”

Mainly a beef cattle farmer, Burnette also grew crops and raised other livestock, said his son, Brett Burnette. 

“He always had cattle and hogs. He had sheep and goats. He didn’t want credit and wasn’t worried about making money. He was more about helping everybody and doing what he liked. We worked hard, but we had a good time. I always said that my daddy was happy if he could get a Coke and a pack of crackers, as long as he could farm,” Brett said. 

Burnette’s granddaughter, Candace Poole, fondly remembered working on the family farm as a child.

“We got up before it got hot and picked the garden, then took it to everybody else. Then we came back and shucked corn. Grandpa would go feed and check on the cattle and Nanny and I would go inside to freeze it, can it and cook it. We also spent a lot of time helping carry and stack firewood. That’s how we spent our whole summers from the time I could walk. I don’t ever remember not going,” she said. 

It was hard work then, but now Poole cherishes the time it allowed her to spend with her grandpa and grandma, Betty Hicks Burnette.

“Thats how I want my child to be raised, to appreciate the garden and understand you need to help your neighbors and friends,” she said.

Brett, who now raises cattle and chickens, credited his dad for helping him develop a strong work ethic and an interest in agriculture at an early age.

“When I was in school, I only had one of my friends who would come home with me because daddy would come by and get us when we got off the bus and work us till dark. He always pushed me hard, but now I see why,” he said. 

“When I was 9 years old, he helped me go buy some bottle calves. He’d make me get up every morning and feed those calves before school and at night when I got back home. I ended up raising them out and selling them, then buying my own cows. I had my own cows by the time I was 11 or 12 because he had a plan for me when I was nine.”

Burnette making syrup
Billy Burnette is pictured making sorghum syrup on the farm with his brother, Tommy, right, in 1994.

Burnette was on his way to obtaining a teaching degree when he joined the Army, Poole said. After coming back home, he worked as a night shift supervisor for Pickens Footwear, a Jasper shoe plant, and farmed in the daytime, she added. 

“He went to Young Harris and North Georgia to college and was one quarter away from graduating. He wanted to teach ag., but he went in the Army and went to Germany. He signed up and was glad to go,” she added. “When he came back, he didn’t finish school. Working the night shift allowed him to provide for his family and farm his land during the day. Years later, he became a full-time farmer.” 

Burnette was known for his generosity with the produce he grew and for helping young people interested in farming, family members recalled.

“He was just a good man. I’ve never known anybody who would drop whatever he was doing and go do things for other people like he would. He didn’t care if he had to work all night. If somebody needed him, he would help them,” Brett said.

“He planted big gardens and he had more than one. When his gardens came in, he would go around giving bags of groceries out of his garden to people,” said Tommy and Linda. 

Burnette stayed involved with the local FFA long after Brett, who was in the program, graduated from Gilmer High. He was a lifetime member of FFA, as well as the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association and Young Farmers Association. 

“He was huge into the FFA. He would let kids borrow a hog or a cow if they needed it,” Poole said. “He wanted to make sure that anybody who was interested in agriculture had a way of being able to find out if it’s something they enjoyed. Until the very end, he did everything he could to help those kids.”

Brett said his dad also had a big part in the formation of the Appalachian Cattlemen’s Association. The local chapter of the Georgia Cattlemen’s Association covers Gilmer, Pickens and Cherokee counties. 

A Gilmer High FFA scholarship was established in Burnette’s name after he passed away in 2009.

“Herbert and Lou Ann Teague, who were both ag. teachers here, were very instrumental in doing that and making sure it went to a child who appreciated it and needed it,” Poole said.

 

A special place

Poole said the location of the bridge over Talona Road is significant to her family for several reasons.

Burnette’s funeral procession traveled south on Highway 515, then on Talona Road en route to his resting place on family land, she noted.

“That’s where so many of his cattle were, on Talona. He got to go past his cattle and check on them one last time,” Poole said.

Poole’s mother, Teri Burnette Gibson, passed away from pancreatic cancer in June and is buried in the same family cemetery as Billy. She did know about plans for the dedication and was looking forward to it, noted Linda.

Talona Road has other personal significance to the family, Brett said.

“Daddy was married to my mama in one of those houses on the other side, where it comes out to Warlick Drive. It’s got significance on both sides, ” he added.