Ron Jabaley was always in the smack-dab middle of the action during his entire football career. When his teams had possession of the ball, he anchored the line from the center position. When trying to stop the opponents from moving the pigskin, he was at the heart of the struggle at a guard or tackle spot. His domination of play on both sides of the ball has not gone unnoticed and Ron Jabaley has been elected as a member of the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame Class of 2015.
Everything about Ron Jabaley was big. In his playing days, he draped a 225-pound, sculpted, Adonis-like physique around a frame that stood roughly 6 feet, 3 inches tall. His voice was deep, rich and resonant. No one who ever shook his hand forgot his strong, vise-like grip. Even the nicknames bestowed upon him suggested size and strength. In his early years he was affectionately called ‘Punjab’, the name of the no-nonsense bodyguard of Daddy Warbucks in the comic strip Annie. Later, at Baylor Prep in Chattanooga, he picked up the moniker of ‘Chief’, again suggestive of his size and strength.
Perhaps the biggest part of Ron Jabaley, however, was his heart. He was a gentle giant. He had a smile that immediately made its recipients feel comfortable. It seems that everyone who met Ron — in childhood, in high school at Copperhill and West Fannin, at Baylor Prep School, in college at the University of Tennessee and Tennessee Wesleyan, at the Southern School of Optometry in Memphis, in the military, in his 40+ years caring for patients at Jabaley Eye Care in Blue Ridge and in his personal life — loved and respected Ron Jabaley.
Ron began his athletic career in Copperhill, Tennessee. His dad, Richard Jabaley Sr. owned and operated a clothing store that stood almost exactly on the border of Tennessee and Georgia. Ron made the Copperhill High School varsity team and garnered considerable playing time as a freshman during the 1954 season. He took over the starting center position as a sophomore in 1955. He played defensive tackle both seasons at Copperhill.
In August, 1956, the Polk County School Board decreed that Georgia residents would no longer be allowed to attend schools, including Copperhill, located in Tennessee. By this time, Ron’s family had moved across the state line to Georgia, so Ron began his education at West Fannin High School as a junior in the autumn of 1956.
At West Fannin, Ron Jabaley was a standout football lineman for two seasons and was named to the Class AA All-State Honorable Mention squad following the 1957 season. He also performed the kicking off and extra point kicking duties for the Jackets. Ron was also a top-notch baseball player at West Fannin.
By the time high school graduation day rolled around in May, 1958, Ron Jabaley had pretty much decided that he wanted to pursue a career in the medical field. He was not certain exactly which aspect of health care was for him, but Ron, and his family, were of the mind that he needed to hone his academic skills a bit before entering college. Ron and his family felt that a year at Baylor Preparatory School in Chattanooga was the answer.
Ron flourished at Baylor. He earned letters in football, baseball and wrestling, and was named to the Chattanooga Times All-City Honorable Mention football team. He was also a campus leader and made many lifelong friends. The Baylor school yearbook, the ‘Klif Klan’ summarizes his legacy thusly: ‘Beneath his brawny bulk there lies one of the finest and friendliest boys that Baylor has had the good fortune of possessing. There is one word for his personality — terrific!’
Ron joined one of his Baylor roommates, Rich Thompson, at the University of Tennessee in the fall of 1959. He was a football walk-on candidate briefly, but nagging injuries and the certainty that his future lay in the medical and business fields, and not on the football field, brought him to the decision to end his athletic career.
He continued his education at the University of Tennessee and at Tennessee Wesleyan before entering the Southern College of Optometry in Memphis. He graduated in 1966. It was during his time in Memphis that Ron met his wife Kay, a native of the Bluff City.
Ron served in the military from 1966 to 1968 and rose to the rank of Captain. Shortly after his discharge, he and Kay were married and returned to Fannin County to start his business and to start raising a family. He founded Jabaley Eye Care in August, 1968 and remained in practice until his death in November, 2013. Ron Jabaley was lived a total of 73 years.
Ron Jabaley’s passions in life were golf, animals (especially his boxers), Georgia Tech football and most of all, his family. He and Kay produced three fine children, all of whom make their homes in Fannin County — two sons, Dr. Timothy Jabaley, Dr. Christopher Jabaley and daughter Leslie Jabaley Johnson.
Ron Jabaley was quite a man and the Fannin County Sports Hall of Fame is honored to recognize one part of his considerable legacy. A legacy as big as the man.