Theodore William Key, 73: Acclaimed teacher loved history
By J.E. Geshwiler
Whether as a teacher, a docent at Jonesboro’s Stately Oaks Plantation or a speaker on the south metro lecture circuit, Ted Key never tired of sharing his fascination with the past — be it the history of the Holy Land, the United States, the state of Georgia or his beloved Clayton County.
He was first and foremost an outstanding middle school teacher who spent 33 years in the Clayton County system, during which he was twice honored as teacher of the year and later inducted into the Georgia Teachers’ Hall of Fame.
Later he taught nine years at Woodward Academy, and returned there often after retirement to substitute or make special presentations.
His wife, Judy Key, said he made a lasting impression on his pupils with history lessons replete with interesting facts and lively anecdotes. It wasn’t unusual, she said, for them to encounter him years later and tell him, “I still remember everything you taught me.”
She said Mr. Key made it a point throughout their travels in America, Europe and Israel to pick up intriguing historical tidbits to enhance the talks he gave.
Theodore William Key, 73, of Jonesboro died of a heart attack Thursday at his family’s cabin outside Ellijay. His funeral is 3 p.m. Tuesday at Jones Memorial United Methodist Church, Morrow. Thomas L. Scroggs Funeral Directors is in charge of arrangements.
A tour guide at the Stately Oaks Plantation for more than 30 years, Mr. Key kept at it until last week, leading 130 or so Polk County fourth-graders Tuesday and a similarly sized group Wednesday.
Barbara Emert of Locust Grove, president of Historical Jonesboro, said Mr. Key was a master storyteller. One of his favorites, she recalled, was about a deceased Native American father and his youngest son. The point of the story, she said, was “you’re never gone as long as people remember you fondly, and that certainly applies in Ted’s case.”
He enjoyed showing off the mansion’s treasures so much, Mrs. Emert said, that even if patrons arrived at closing time, he would stay over and give them the complete tour.
One of the plantation’s enduring attractions was Mr. Key’s own idea — a Native American Heritage Day, begun in 1983 and celebrated with exhibits of arts, crafts and dance each April since then. Mr. Key would dress in traditional costume and tell stories in one of the three permanent Creek-style huts erected on the plantation.
A longtime member of the Jones Memorial church, he was for many years a youth leader and Sunday school teacher and was cited as an outstanding religious educator by the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Tom Drake of Jackson, who will preside at the funeral, said he thought of Mr. Key as his adopted father.
“He and his wife took me in at a turning point in my life when I was 19 and treated me as one of their own children,” Rev. Drake said. “Thanks to his patience and guidance, he is a huge reason why I became a Methodist minister. I suppose he led thousands to the Lord.”
Survivors also include two sons, Mike Key of Jonesboro and Matt Key of Cumming; a sister, Joan Murray of Orange Park, Fla.; a brother, Dennis Key of Hiram, and three grandchildren.