Thomasville’s history is punctuated by many types of people — some of them with world renown, fame and influence.
A visiting couple that was drawn to Thomasville several times was the Duke and Duchess of Windsor— the former King of England, His Royal Highness Edward VIII and his wife, Wallis Simpson.
Edward VIII and Simpson were known globally because of their love for one another. He abdicated the British throne when he was told he could not marry Simpson, an American divorcee. It was prohibited for the King of England to marry a divorcee, but on Dec. 11, 1936, he abandoned the throne. He and Simpson wed on June 3, 1937 in France.
Despite numerous rumors and accusations they endured throughout their lives, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were welcome around the world with open arms. Thomasville was no exception to the hospitality.
The Duke and Duchess became the guests of George F. Baker of Horseshoe Plantation, located between Thomasville and Tallahassee, Fla. They visited Thomasville several times because of its proximity to Horseshoe Plantation.
With the Duke being a horse enthusiast with interests in quail hunting and golf, as well as being a philanthropist, it is no surprise that he was drawn to Thomasville by influential people such as John Hay “Jock” Whitney and his wife at Greenwood Plantation in Thomasville.
Many people remember seeing the Windsors around town and hearing family members talk about their experiences with the royals.
Margaret Sibley of Thomasville was only 12 years old when she met the Duke of Windsor at Glen Arven Country Club during a golf lesson with a couple of her friends.
She remembered the Duke being on the golf course where they were playing.
“We were all in a stir about them being there,” said Sibley.
One of her friends, Judy Nicholson, formerly of Thomasville, was brave enough to walk up to the Duke and ask for his autograph. Sibley believes she also received an autograph from the Duke but, over the years, it has been lost.
The Duke invited the group of girls to have tea with him, a dream come true for them.
Sibley said, “He told us to come back at four and we would have tea.”
After their golf lesson, Sibley and her friends went to Nicholson’s mother’s house. Her mother was a teacher and wanted the girls to be familiar with English history before having tea with the Duke.
“Judy’s mother wanted us to know all about him when we had tea, so she taught us a lot about the royal family before going back for tea,” said Sibley.
Sibley recalled the Duke talking with them about his dogs and asked them if they had a boyfriend.
She said, “He just talked to us about normal things you’d talk to teen girls about. The Duke also told us that his wife, the Duchess, was out shopping.”
A rumor Sibley remembered hearing about during the Windsors’ stay in Thomasville is that the club had to run and get tea because they were not used to having hot tea served to guests.
Philip Faulk of Thomasville remembered hearing stories about the Duke and Duchess told by his aunt, Mary Lena Faulk. She was an LPGA professional golfer during the 1940s-60s and played at Glen Arven Country Club frequently.
“Aunt Mary Lena happened to be in town and wanted to play golf with the Duke. She didn’t play her usual game to keep from embarrassing the Duke,” Philip Faulk joked.
After playing, the Duke and Mary Lena Faulk went to the clubhouse for tea. The Duchess came in from shopping and joined them.
Philip Faulk said, “She always said both were really nice and polite, especially the Duchess.”
As a teenager, Philip Faulk worked at The Gift Shop in Thomasville. He remembered hearing the tales from Anne Searcy, the owner of The Gift Shop, about the Duchess shopping in her store.
Around the world, the Duke and Duchess were known for having products given to them to help endorse certain items, etc. However, Searcy told young Faulk, the Duchess always paid for the things she purchased from the store.
Will Krech, Searcy’s great nephew, recalled his great aunt talking very little about her customers, the Windsors. He said she claimed they were very polite.
Sibley remembered hearing that the Duchess went to Steyerman’s department store in Thomasville and picked out the best dresses there to give to her maids. It is rumored that the Duchess never paid for the dresses, demonstrating the way the Duchess was known for endorsing brands, etc., throughout her life.
In the Centennial History Glen Arven Country Club by Sidney L. Matthew, it said the Duke enjoyed hunting in Thomasville and was named an honorary member of the Georgia-Florida Field Trial Club.
Robert Balfour, the father of R.C. Balfour of Thomasville, recounted an episode with the Duke of Windsor in his memoirs, which is shared in the Glen Arven Country Club book.
On a turkey hunt, Balfour remembered the Duke becoming the center of a joke of humility.
Sen. W.E. Edge of New Jersey invited the Duke on a wild turkey drive. The superintendent of Sunny Hill Plantation in Leon County, Fla., Albert Stringer, had organized farm boys to help and give each one of them an empty shell box for the guests to sit on.
One of the boys was told to follow “that man”’ and put the box down for him specifically. It was not until the sun came up that Stringer recognized that the man was the Duke. Stringer had been ordering the Duke around all morning.
Before Stringer could apologize, the hunt had already started. The Duke missed his first shot and Stringer suggested the turkeys were flying faster than he thought. However, for the next two shots, the Duke bagged turkeys.
As the hunt concluded, the Duke picked up his empty shell box and one of the turkeys. The boys offered to carry the shell box and turkey for the Duke, but he smiled and let his companions know he was a good fellow after all.
The story, as told by Robert Balfour, suggested the Duke of Windsor got along well with others.
Places in Thomasville the Duke and Duchess left their mark on include Thomas Drug Store, where a prescription was filled for them; Pebble Hill Plantation; The Gift Shop; Steyerman’s; Greenwood Plantation; Glen Arven Country Club; Greenwood Plantation; the Veterans Administration Domiciliary (the former location of Southwestern State Hospital); and possibly others that were undocumented.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of a celebration of the Times-Enterprise’s 125th year, this is the seventh in a year-long series of Sunday stories about important people, places and things in the area. The next one will be published April 20.
Reporter Susanne Reynolds can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1826.