Sewanee’s Fourth of July Parade Committee is proud to announce that John Gass Bratton is the Grand Marshal for 2018. Bratton’s roots in this community range far and wide from reading, writing and arithmetic at the Bairnwick School, to the Sewanee Military Academy (class of 1947), to economics major at the University (class of 1952), to alumni director for seven years, to the oldest surviving charter member of the Monteagle-Sewanee Rotary Club, to the proud distinction of having never missed a concert of the Sewanee Summer Music Festival since it began more than 60 years ago.
Bratton was born in Texas but moved to Memphis as a young child. At age 8, his father died suddenly and the family moved to Sewanee where his two uncles promptly started building a home on South Carolina Avenue for their recently widowed sister and her children. Bratton remembers watching his uncle Henry Gass, a professor at the University and acting Vice Chancellor from 1948-49, and his uncle John Gass, a priest who would eventually become rector of the Church of the Incarnation where the Delano-Roosevelts worshipped, build the house in 1937, which has been inhabited by the Brattons ever since. After graduating from the college, Bratton moved to Charleston and worked on the docks as a stevedore, among other things, until 1969 when he returned to the Mountain to become alumni director.
In the mid-sixties his mother had started taking in student boarders in their home on South Carolina Avenue—a practice continued by Mr. Bratton and refined into ritual over the next 50 years. Bratton guesses up to 150 students have lived in the upstairs apartment and “The Cave” down below. There were often four students at a time living in the house and the Sunday dinners were legendary. Students were expected to bring a date, a friend, a cousin for a real home-cooked meal around a set table. Bratton cooked all day for this command performance and privilege; no matter what, students were loath to miss a Sunday at the Bratton table. Many have remained in close contact with him through decades, forever grateful for his friendship, generosity, and hospitality. In fact, the Monteagle-Sewanee Rotary Scholarship to the University for a student from Grundy County has raised more than $13,000 through the generosity of former residents of South Carolina Avenue and other university students warmly welcomed into the Bratton circle. This scholarship is now aptly named the John Gass Bratton Rotary Scholarship. This has been Bratton’s passion. These Rotary scholarships provide essential support that give young men and women the opportunity to better their lives and their communities.
When Bratton left his job in development at the University in the 1970s, he left to serve a larger community in the alcohol and drug recovery field with Bradford Health services. He did this for many years until retirement when he could devote himself fully to this town, this mountain, this village, whatever we call ourselves. Bratton was president of the Sewanee Trust for Historic Preservation, president of the Sewanee Senior Citizens’ Center, longtime parishioner at Otey Memorial Parish, volunteer for the Community Action Committee, and, as mentioned earlier, an ardent and devoted supporter of the Sewanee Summer Music Festival.
If you’ve seen the statue of children in Abbo’s Alley, then you’ve seen Mr. Bratton forever young and at play. The statue was commissioned by Louis Rice for his wife on their anniversary and depicts Ellen Kirby-Smith Rice holding hands with her childhood playmates, Loulie Hunt Cocke, Louise Scott Lee and John Bratton.
Please join us on Wednesday, July 4, to celebrate John Gass Bratton, one of Sewanee’s finest!