It’s thought the fire started on a hotplate in the back of the store. The late-evening blaze at Buice Furniture in Gwinnett County’s Sugar Hill community spread quickly.
With no local fire service in the early 1960s, owners Maron Buice and his partner and brother-in-law Glad Sudderth frantically reached out to the nearby Buford Fire Department and were told it didn’t didn’t respond to blazes outside the city limits.
“So they sat and watched it burn to the ground,” recounts Buice’s son Ron.
What happened next was emblematic of how Maron Buice responded to a challenge. He organized a meeting to create a volunteer fire department. Plans were drawn up. Fundraisers were held. And Buice was tapped as chief, a position he held for 16 years following the blaze.
“He never said one thing bad about the Buford Fire Department or the people there,” said Ron Buice. “But he made sure the Sugar Hill department agreed that if they got called out to someplace outside the community, they would respond.”
Businessman and volunteer fire chief were only part of Buice’s impact on Gwinnett County. He also served four terms as a county commissioner.
The 93-year-old former commissioner, businessman, extended family leader and civic activist died in his sleep April 4. He’s survived by children Ron, Michael, Hugh and Denise and a clutch of grand- and great-grandchildren. His wife Jo Ann died in 2009. There was no memorial service due to the ongoing pandemic.
A Southern Baptist church deacon for more than 30 years, faith and family defined him.
His favorite song was “Victory in Jesus,” and such gospel fare figured prominently in the annual Buice family reunion in Forsyth County, which he shepherded for decades. At one time, it attracted hundreds and took on the air of a church camp meeting with religious singalongs and tables groaning with food.
Born in Hall County to a salesman father and seamstress mother, young Buice took their business acumen and work ethic to heart following a World War II service hitch. He set up his business after toiling in an industrial plant. The furniture store lasted in various incarnations from the late 1940s until he sold it in the 1980s.
Family members said he prospered because of the way he treated customers.
“He would let people pay whatever they could to get furniture or an appliance,” and allow them to make up the difference later, said son Michael. “He ran his business from a Christian perspective. It wasn’t just words that came out of his mouth. He walked the walk.’
Family members and associates said those qualities served him well in 16 years as District One County Commissioner beginning in 1969.
Buice helped pave the way for growth as the county commission established a countywide fire service and a water and sewer authority to tap Lake Lanier. Buice spearheaded road improvements, the creation of the county’s first park-and-ride lot, and the founding of Gwinnett Clean and Beautiful.
Another commission ex-chair, Wayne Mason, said “You always knew where he stood,” even as Buice’s Baptist convictions occasionally put him crossways with colleagues. He opposed an early 1970s referendum on serving mixed drinks.
But colleagues said perhaps his signature project was the creation of a railroad overpass on Ga. 20 at the spot where five Forsyth County girls died in a gruesome 1970 train-car accident
“He fought for years to get the bridge put up there,” said former commission chair Bill Atkinson. The span was dedicated in September 1975. Fittingly, another ceremony last year christened the overpass the Maron Sidney Buice Bridge.
After work Buice would tend to his garden, motor with his Model-A car club or take care of the Black Angus cows on the family’s 25-acre spread.
And he would hold forth at the store, spinning yarns to the crowd of regulars.
As Mason, the ex-commission chair put it. “I never met anyone who didn’t like Maron Buice.”
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