John Melvin, a retired attorney and partner with Stewart, Melvin & Frost, died Sunday after a lengthy illness. He was 79.
His friends and colleagues remembered him Monday as a kind, caring man who always went out of his way to make people feel comfortable. And they recalled his love of musical theater, including his long run as Daddy Warbucks in “Annie.”
“Whenever I think about someone in my life, I always ask am I better off for having known them? In John’s case, the answer is absolutely yes,” said Scotty Ball, a partner at Stewart, Melvin and Frost. Ball and Melvin practiced real estate law together for a decade before Melvin retired. "He was a real Southern gentleman."
“He was a real Gainesville man, an icon,” Ball said.
Joe Booth, a Superior Court Judge in the Piedmont Circuit, said Melvin was a meticulous, detail-oriented person. But he was a man who could see the humor in life.
“He had a big laugh,” said Booth, who clerked at Stewart, Melvin and Frost in 1977. “He was a really big personality. A good guy.”
Booth said that when he passed the bar exam and was sworn in as an attorney, Melvin came to the ceremony.
“It was a really nice thing,” he said.
Melvin and his partners, Woodrow Stewart and Doug Stewart, joined the firm in the late 1960s, and together they established business and tax law, litigation and real estate as core specialties of the firm. At Stewart Melvin & Frost, Melvin specialized in residential and commercial real estate title issues.
Ball said that Melvin, with his tall stature and deep bass voice, could be intimidating to people at first.
“But he always had a way of making people feel comfortable,” Ball said. “He was one of the best people I’ve ever known for remembering names.”
Ball said he hasn’t seen Melvin as much in recent years while he was battling illness.
“Every time I think of him, I see that smile of his across his desk,” Ball said. “There was never a frown or a furrow of the brow. It was just how can we solve this together. It had a huge impact on me.”
Besides his long legal practice, Melvin was well known in community theater circles for playing Daddy Warbucks in four stage productions of “Annie,” starting in 1990. He returned to the stage for a final performance in 2009.
“That was John to a T,” Ball said of Melvin’s portrayal of Warbucks.
Pam Ware, director of Gainesville Summer Community Theatre, said Melvin was always prepared and focused on the role.
“I can honestly say that ‘Annie’ would not be the success it has always been if it were not for John Melvin as ‘Daddy Warbucks,’” Ware said in 2009. “The role is made for him. He can sing, act and dance. Not a lot of people realize John is a good dancer. When we are rehearsing John is very focused and businesslike but when there is a break he jokes around and has fun. He is a real people person and John really enjoys meeting people of all ages.”
Melvin was born in Baltimore, the city where his parents met. Soon, the family moved South, first to Atlanta, then to Jefferson, which was his mother’s hometown and where Melvin was raised.
Melvin grew up in a musical family. He played trumpet in high school and in college as part of the University of Georgia Redcoat Band. The trumpet he played at halftime of the 1960 Orange Bowl was donated to alma mater, Jefferson High School.
He took theatre classes in college and was taught by Ed Cabell, the namesake of the theater on the University of North Georgia Gainesville campus.
While at the University of Georgia, Melvin served in the Air Force ROTC. In 1962, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force. He was given a three-year deferment to attend law school at Georgia. After graduation, he was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, South Dakota, where he spent three years in the Judge Advocate’s office as a prosecutor and defense attorney.
In 1968, John returned to Georgia and interviewed with several law firms. His hometown friend Woodrow Stewart was an attorney with Telford, Wayne & Stewart. Melvin joined the firm that year. During his 40-year law career, he has stayed with the same firm, but the firm name has changed: Telford, Wayne & Stewart (1968) to Telford, Stewart & Stephens (1970) to Stewart, Melvin & House (1981) to Stewart, Melvin & Frost (1994).
Over his career, Melvin handled about 10,000 closings. Sometimes, he would have four or five closings a day.
“I especially enjoyed meeting new people and explaining the process for first-time homeowners,” Melvin once said.
He often told the story about one closing where a man pulled a brown paper bag from under the table. It contained a bottle of champagne, which they poured into Styrofoam cups and toasted the closing.
Melvin had been a member of the Gainesville Rotary Club since 1971, and he was known for his work in Rotary’s Georgia Rotary Student Program. He was president of Rotary in 1988-89, the same year the club earned Club of the Year honors.
Melvin was active at First Presbyterian Church, where he served as a deacon, an elder and assistant Sunday School teacher. He was a member of the church’s choir for 40 years.
He is survived by his wife of nearly 55 years, Mary Louise Greer Melvin; daughter Meredith Melvin Weaver of Atlanta, Ga.; son John Marshall Melvin, Jr. (Sara Moss Melvin) of Atlanta, GA; grandchildren John Frederick Weaver, John Marshall Melvin, III, and Virginia Windham Melvin; sister Jane Melvin Eberhart (Frank Eberhart) of Athens, GA; sister Ann Melvin Tatum (John Tatum) of Savannah, GA; brother-in-law T.C. Greer (Marty Greer) of Chula, GA; and a number of nieces and nephews.
His death is the third of a partner at Stewart, Melvin & Frost in a month. Doug Stewart and Frank Armstrong died in May.
A celebration of his life will be held at 2:00 p.m. this Saturday, June 15, at First Presbyterian Church of Gainesville. A reception at the church will follow.