O. Clyde Bales, 81: Had a unique take on life, told bad jokes

It is not clear to the daughters of Clyde Bales exactly how many careers their father had.

There was his music career, then he spent a number of years in telecommunications and he also dedicated 30 years of his life to the Sports Car Club of America. On top of all of that, Bales, who had shock-white hair on his head and in his full beard, spent a decade putting smiles on the faces of young children by donning a red suit during certain months of the year.

“He was definitely always doing something,” said his daughter Juanette Wills, of Atlanta. “And I think what was most interesting to me was the diversity of his activity.”

Jennifer Paradis-Hagar, a friend of 40 years, said Bales was one of the most “fascinating people and unforgettable characters,” she knew.

“He absolutely made things interesting all around him,” she wrote Thursday, in an e-mail to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone who was so vivid and full of life, who so enjoyed every day he was here.”

Orlan Clyde Bales, of Atlanta, died in his sleep at home June 23. He was 81.

His body was donated to Emory University’s medical school and he requested no memorial service. His family did decide to have a celebration Sunday that they called an “end of race” party at Road Atlanta in Braselton, a nod to Bales’ time spent at the track.

Bales got involved with the Atlanta Region Sports Car Club of America after he’d been in that Atlanta area for some 20 years. He transferred from Monroe, La., to Atlanta in the late ‘60s while working for Western Union, said his eldest daughter, Dena Kitchens, of Peachtree Corners. There was a short period in the early ‘80s, after his retirement from Western Union, Bales worked for a company called Hill Associates in New York, his daughter said, but he soon returned to Atlanta.

His life-long love for cars is what took him to Road Atlanta after his return to the south, Kitchens said, where he worked in scoring and timing. But before all of this, the Arkansas native taught music at his high school alma mater. A graduate of Louisiana State University, with a degree in music education, Bales is credited with writing the music for the school song, his eldest daughter said. While he loved music, his family of two daughters was growing, and eventually included a third daughters and a son, and Bales needed to make more money than he could as a high school music teacher.

“That is how he got into telecommunications,” Kitchens said.

As the years passed, and Bales moved from one interest to another, he was presented with an unexpected opportunity as he approached his 70s.

“He’d always worn a full beard, but it was, by then, completely white, along with his hair, and everywhere he went children’s eyes just got big,” Willis said.

“Before the children started talking and staring, I don’t think he gave it much thought,” Kitchens added.

And to his advantage, he was in perfect shape for the seasonal gig, said long-time friend Paradis-Hagar.

“One of the bad jokes Clyde used to tell, and he loved to tell them, was, ‘The doctor says I should keep in shape. I told him, round IS a shape,’ ” she wrote. “When I mentioned on my Facebook page that Clyde had left us, I said, ‘There’s a Clyde-shaped hole in the world.’ Another of his friends posted to this, ‘It’s round. Because round IS a shape.’ ”

In addition to his daughters, Bales is survived by a third daughter, Aida Chappell of Willow Springs, N.C.; son, Kevin Bales of Cobb County; sister, Bernice Campbell of Mena, Ark.; and six grandchildren.

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