A celebration was held for a “great American and true patriot” who reached an important milestone. Retired Norfolk Southern Railway officer Forrest Earl Jarrett turned 90 years old this November and friends from far and wide turned out at the historic train depot in Marshall to wish him well.
The venue was filled well beyond its considerable seating capacity for the first part of the celebration last Thursday, and again on Friday night.
The ever gracious Pat Franklin warmly welcomed the scores in attendance.
“Forrest and I have been playing together down here every Friday night for about seven years, and I’ve learned a lot from him. I’m a diehard Democrat, and he’s a diehard Republican, so we’re a mixed couple, and we get along really good. One of the things that’s most dear to Mr. Jarrett’s heart is music, so you all are in for a big treat tonight,” Franklin said.
Franklin then turned to microphone over to the evening’s emcee Laura Boosinger, director of the Madison County Arts Council, and introduced the evening’s first musical performers, members of the Junior Appalachian Musicians, specifically the David Andrews Back Porch Pickers.
“These kids have been in the program up to eight years, and these guys really can play. They’re not just going to be cute, although some of them really are. You’ve got some really wonderful musicians here,” Boosinger said.
She then introduced Angie Chandler, executive director of the Blue Ridge National Heritage Area, who began by wishing Jarrett a happy birthday.
“We love Marshall because it’s such a hot place on the Blue Ridge Music Trail of North Carolina. One of the programs we sponsor in Western North Carolina is the start-up JAM program. We love to promote our homegrown music, and we’re here to make sure that it stays strong for many, many years to come,” Chandler said.
Additional talent gracing the stage for the musical program included David Holt & Josh Goforth. Boosinger said Goforth grew up in Madison County and started performing when the depot first opened in its present incarnation as a music venue.
“He was here every Friday night until he went off to college. He’s really put the mark on the map for Madison County.”
Boosinger said David Holt was her teacher in college. “I was able to make up my whole major around Appalachian music with his help. David did a lot to preserve music in this region, he did a lot to keep old folks feeling good about themselves through their music.”
David Holt’s State of Music is scheduled to air on PBS at 9:30 p.m. on Dec. 6, and will run for 18 weeks. Other musicians performing included Dale McCoy, and Judge Rebecca Eggers-Gryder who sang her rendition of the Patsy Cline torch song Crazy. Eggers-Gryder is a district court judge on the 24th Judicial District, who just happens to have some serious vocal and instrumental talent.
A staff member from N.C. Representative Mark Meadows’ office presented Jarrett with birthday wishes and a quoted from the congressman.
“There isn’t a finer gentleman than Forrest. When you think about someone who is an ambassador from Madison County, regardless of the party, Forrest is the example.”
He said we all know and enjoy Forrest’s many colorful sayings, and the congressman’s favorite is, “Call me anytime, night or day.” Many people say that, but Forrest means it.
“As you know, Forrest loves the railroad and the people of Madison County, and on behalf of the Meadows for Congress campaign we would like to make a donation of $5,000 to the Marshall Depot.”
Jarrett humbly responded, “You’re too precious to be true, and we love you with all our heart. Thank you.”
The Marshall Depot was scheduled for demolition when Norfolk Southern Railway discontinued passenger service, but the old depot held special memories for Jarrett’s mother, Linda. It was where his father caught the train to court her in Hot Springs.
Three years before Jarrett retired as the railway’s top law enforcement officer, he persuaded the railway to lease the depot to the city of Marshall for $1 per year. Community grants were awarded to install a stage, sound system, kitchen, and central heating and air conditioning.
“Every Friday night it made mama Linda so happy to hear singing, and see clogging, and cakewalks. She wanted to do something for the good mountain people, we go back seven generations,” Jarrett said.