Eugene Whitefield Dabbs, III, Son of EWD, Jr. & Stella

Eugene Whitefield Dabbs, III and Nell Rees Dabbs

  Eugene Whitefield (Gene) Dabbs, III (9/24/1917-9/16/2005) was the responsible one.  Like his father, he was born and raised at Dabbs Crossroads, graduated from the Citadel and served in the U.S. Army, reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. During World War II, he was stationed in various places, including Ireland, North Africa, and Italy. After the war, he returned home to help his mother with the farm and their plant nursery. 
A voracious reader who loved to travel, particularly by car, Gene was widely regarded as a master of story telling. He could engage anyone in thought-provoking conversation, whether it was about the latest book he had read or a recent adventure. He particularly enjoyed discussing politics.  His intellect and robust curiosity were offset by his humility, modesty and sense of service. As a young man, little did he know that a delightful red head, Mildred Nell Rees, and four rambunctious sons would change his life forever.
Nell Rees Dabbs (5/1/1922 – 5/6/2005) befriended Gene’s sister, Louise, at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, and through Louise, also came to know two young men by the names of Jack Bevan and Tommy Dabbs. On a lark, they invited Nell to visit Dabbs Crossroads for the weekend to meet Gene. Later in life, Nell would describe her trip “to the country” as highlighted by her simple green dress, which was made on short notice for the occasion. She admitted that the dress ended up being a “bit too tight and a bit too short.” 
Gene and Nell were married six months later.  When Gene was asked when he fell in love with Nell, he would say, “When she got off that bus in that short tight green dress, I was in love.”  From that point on, Gene became Nell’s “Hubby,” a nickname that Nell would use for Gene throughout her life with such frequency that Gene became known as “Hubby” to the rest of the world as well.
Gene and Nell built a cottage across the road from his mother, and it was there that they lived and raised four boys until 1972, when they moved into Sumter.  Using the training from his studies of landscape architecture at Cornell University, where he went after the war, Gene worked in the nursery business with his mother.
On the whole, the landscaping business sputtered, and Gene was never able to benefit from the boom that occurred in this field over the following decades.  As the boys grew older with the oldest reaching college age, both Gene and Nell accepted jobs teaching at nearby Maywood High School. Gene taught eighth grade math for eight years.
Pressed by the financial demands of four children, a languishing nursery business and college costs,  Gene decided to re-enter civil engineering, a profession that he spent some time in after the war.  This decision required him to obtain further education, and at the age of 50, Gene completed his Master’s Degree in Mathematics at the University of South Carolina and passed the rigorous qualifying examination. 
Nell, who was usually undaunted by any of life’s challenges, despised teaching elementary school, where her unruly students correctly identified her as a pushover. Having obtained a Bachelor of Arts from Duke University and a Master’s in Psychiatric Social Work from Boston University, she was able to leave the teaching profession to begin a career in Social Work, which was her calling. As a psychiatric social worker, she used her superb training, uncommon instinct, and magical disposition to affect positive change in the lives of many. She worked in that field for the next 30 years, and distinguished herself in the administration of the Sumter County Council on Aging.
In their later years, Gene and Nell became one of the most delightful and loved couples in Sumter. Having endured the “brownish” cottage for nearly two decades and rearing four sons who had absolutely no regard for things feminine, Nell acted with purpose to change the color of her life to pink.  In her home and dress, no one could question that pink was her favorite color, as everything was pink, from the cotton balls and tissues in the bathroom to her piano. 
After Gene and Nell retired, they were always together.  She  would be dressed in pink, purple, or lime green with matching bright sunglasses, of which she had no fewer than 20.  Nell was also known for the large flowers that she wore on the front of her ankle length dresses, and she would arrange for Gene to dress in coordinating colors with his shirts, ties and socks matching her dresses. Whenever they walked into a room together, smiles would be exchanged throughout.   Gene use to laugh, “I look like a damn Easter Egg,” but, like a good old soldier, he followed the program.
After the children were all gone Nell and Gene made a habit of eating out every meal.  Cole’s, Bojangles or Buster’s for breakfast and then they developed a pattern of different lunch and dinner restaurants depending on the day of the week.  Nell was profoundly lighthearted, having fully embraced the philosophical view that one can overcome sadness with willful positivity. To her, there was never bad news. She invented “spin” long before political pollsters knew what it was.  She would begin every story with the sentence, “I have the best news . . . .  We are sooo lucky.”   Her descriptions of life’s misfortunes were legendary.   To this day, many in the family, when faced with sad news, will remember Nell’s unique view on life and wonder how she would spin it.  “We are soooooo lucky . . . .”   Those who had the opportunity to know Gene and Nell were the luckiest of all.
            Preceded by Nell in death by only four months, Gene would continue as best he could their daily ritual, although age was quickly getting the better of him.  After her death, he would sometimes awaken and call out for “Nellie,” a habit that is hard to break after over 50 years of marriage.  Not long after Nell’s death, Gene stopped by his sister’s house, the old home where he had grown up.  “I keep having this dream,” he said.  “I’m lying on the floor with people all around me eating and I’m trying to tell them something, but no one is listening.  What do you think it means?”  Louise had no idea, but passed the conversation on.    When she told me I smiled and shrugged, “Who knows?”
            A week later my husband and I and my mother, Louise, were sitting across from her brother, Gene,  and his son, Rees, at a local restaurant.  “How are you feeling, Gene?”  Mother asked.  Gene’s arms were resting on the table and she took his hands in hers.  “Dubious,” was his reply.   He put his head down and appeared to doze off, something he had been prone to do in the previous weeks. We continued to scan a menu that we all knew by heart and casually talk.  It was several minutes before we realized Gene was not breathing. It is with some embarrassment that I admit that we considered whether there was anyway that we could discreetly move the body from the restaurant to the car without drawing attention to ourselves and disturbing the other diners. I think that’s a trait inherent in Southerners:  a need to keep up appearances and be polite at all costs.
            When the rescue squad stretched him across the restaurant floor and tried in vain to revive him, Mother turned to me with tears in her eyes and whispered, “He’s lying on the floor with people all around him eating.  What do you think he’s trying to tell us?”
            “He’s with his Nellie, now, Mom.   He wants us to let it be.”
            “Oh,” she wept.  “I just wish this had all happened at the Country Club instead.”