An iconic Columbus businessman and the biggest Alabama football supporter in the Chattahoochee Valley died Wednesday afternoon.
Buddy Helton, who ran service stations in Phenix City and Columbus for more than 60 years, would have been 90 in October. He died at Piedmont Columbus Regional Hospital, his family confirmed to News 3 Thursday morning.
“He’s singing with the heavenly choir today,” said his only child, Mike Helton.
Visitation will be Monday from 5-7 at McMullen Funeral Home and Crematory on Gentian Boulevard in Columbus. Graveside services will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at Lakeview Memory Garden in Phenix City with a celebration of life service to be held at 2 that afternoon at Lakewood Baptist Church in Phenix City.
And it was long, rich life worth celebrating, his son said.
In 2015, Buddy Helton Chevron at the corner of 13th Street and Veterans Parkway closed. It was the last full-service gas station still operating in Columbus and it had been open on that site for more than 40 years.
Over the years, Helton owned and operated five gas stations in Columbus and Phenix City.
“He was the consummate people person,” said his nephew Ed Helton.
“People stopped by Helton’s station for gas — and to talk Alabama football. A lifelong Crimson Tide fan, Helton established strong relationships with the Crimson Tide, helping assistant coaches and the legendary Bear Bryant establish the pipeline of talent from Phenix City to Tuscaloosa.
Helton was involved in the recruiting of Alabama legends such as Woodrow Lowe, Eddie Lowe, Billy Jackson, Jeremiah Castille, Marco Battle, and Vantrice Davis. Like, Helton they all graduated from Phenix City.
“He was an Alabama guy,” said Eddie Lowe, now the Phenix City mayor. “If he believed in you, he believed in you. And he believed in me.”
Helton, a standout at Central, never attended college nor played college football, but he had a huge impact on the Crimson Tide. He became friends with Bryant and close friends with Alabama assistant coaches such as Mal Moore and Pat Dye.
Moore put Helton in the Alabama “A” Club a few years ago when he was athletic director.
“He wore that ring with such great pride,” Ed Helton said.
Helton is survived by his son and 10 grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Helton’s wife, Patsy, passed away 14 years ago.
WRBL News 3 will have more on this later today.