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If you knew George N. Busey, maybe lived near him in Bagdad or interacted with him in the myriad ways he affected Shelby County, then you almost assuredly share today in the sense of loss felt by so many.
Busey, a longtime farmer known far and wide for his civic mindedness, his love of his community and his character, died Sunday. He was 88.
“He loved his community, and he loved giving back to it, through the Bagdad Ruritan Club, or however he could,” said Shelby County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger, who lives in Bagdad. “And he was one of the nicest individuals I ever met. He always had a smile and a handshake, and he always treated everyone with the utmost respect.”
Rothenburger said he always admired Busey’s dedication to farming.
“He had one of the most immaculate farms that ever was,” he said. “He worked it up until he had a severe stroke a few years ago. I mean, he would get out there and work from sun up to sun down. He just loved farming.”
Busey’s son, Bill, said people would remember his father most for his honesty and his desire to help others.
“He was very civic-minded, so much so that he didn’t take much time for recreation,” Busey said. “His work on the farm, and at the tobacco warehouse, and his civic activities, that was his life. He had a full plate for a long time with being on so many boards, and he was chairman of many of them.”
A man of community
Busey, son of George N. Busey Sr. and Bess Tinsley Busey, was a graduate of Bagdad High School. He was married for 45 years to Eleanor Duncan Busey, who died in 1988. They had two children, Bill and Susanne.
After serving as a fighter pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Busey returned to Shelby County and began to farm, soon making his mark in that capacity, being named an Outstanding Young Farmer in 1955.
He was in the tobacco warehouse business for more than 40 years, and was a former manager of the old Star Warehouse.
But it was the boards to which he was appointed, elected and volunteered that perhaps defined his life.
Busey served on the Governor’s Commission on Agriculture under Gov. Edward Breathitt and was president of Shelby County Farm Bureau.
He served on the board of directors of the Shelby Energy Co-op for more than 40 years, was on the Bagdad Cemetery board, and was a member of the Bagdad Ruritan Club. He was chairman of the board of the old Bank of Shelbyville.
He was the last surviving member of the founders of the Shelby County Industrial Foundation, established in 1957, and was on the original board of directors of the Foundation.
And he was chairman of the Shelby County School Board during the time when Shelby County High School was being built, and Duanne Puckett, public relations coordinator for the school system, said that was a responsibility he took very seriously and that the role he played and what he accomplished meant a lot to him.
“In January 2008, he drove through a thunderstorm to attend a school board meeting where former board members where being recognized as part of the one-hundredth anniversary of the law enacting school boards,” she said. “That showed his pride in having been a member for about twenty years and his continued dedication to the school system. That dedication occurred, too, during the merger of the city and county school system, which was a time of difficult decisions.
“He was an asset to our county and to our schools.”
Gentleman and role model
Puckett called Busey a “true Southern gentleman,” a comment that was echoed by many others, including Paul Hornback.
“I’ve known him all my life, and the thing that always impressed me is that he was a real gentleman,” he said. “Whether he was in the company of women or men, he was always respectful, in all ways. The way he dressed, the way he carried himself, the way he treated other people.”
Ann Smiser, his companion of 23 years, said that quality was the first thing she noticed about Busey the first night they met, when they found themselves seated next to each at the Shelby County Community Theatre.
“I have never known anybody who had as sterling a character as he did,” she said. “He was always concerned about other people and what was best for them. He gave his whole life, even though he was busy being a farmer, he made time to be on all these different committees and projects that would be helpful to Shelby County.”
Ryburn Weakley, a close friend of Busey’s, said that attitude was why Busey was on the board of directors of Shelby Energy for so many years.
“He wanted to make sure everybody had electricity out in the county,” he said.
Weakley said he and Busey became fast friends after Weakley’s brother went off to military service.
“That was when George took over as my big brother,” he said. “He was such an honest, hard-working person, and his spirit of community service was as great as anyone I have ever known.”
But Busey was more than just “like” a brother to him, Weakley said.
“We never had a family gathering of any kind when George wasn’t there,” he said. “It wasn’t just that he was like family, he wasfamily. I just can’t say how much I will miss him.”
Rothenburger said he will never forget Busey’s patience and level-headedness.
“When he would speak, people would actually listen, because he was so wise,” he said.
It was that wisdom, said his daughter, Susanne Busey Osberg, that she considers her father’s most precious legacy.
“My dad taught us that there is always two sides to every argument, and that we should always just listen and take in all the facts before you make up your mind,” she said. “He was very wise in that way. As a kid, he was tough, but you knew he would always be fair.”
Bill Busey called his dad a great role model – the best – and remembers with fondness his dad teaching him to play basketball by building a goal for him behind the house and then supporting him all the way when went on to play basketball for the University of Kentucky under Adolph Rupp.
“He supported me in whatever I wanted to do, and he was a great source of encouragement to me,” he said. “He was just the best, there’s no denying that.”