John Dewberry generated a lifetime of headline-generating sports and business Moments that he was proud to share with his father, but one very personal Moment they shared – undergoing cancer surgery on the exact same day – was one John chose to keep a secret until his dad was in recovery.
“I had not told him about my cancer because I didn’t want him worrying about me,” John told us when we videotaped his Moments video. “I didn’t want him to be expending energy worrying about his son because I knew that was exactly what he would do.”
Finally, a few days after they both went under the knife, “I shared with my father that I had my cancer a lot longer than he had detected his.”
Gary Dewberry died August 8, 2011 of lung cancer. Earlier that summer, John gave Gary some hard-to-hear advice about how he should spend his last few months of life. It was payback – “tough love” John called it – for a lifetime of advice his father had given him. Gary and John shared another trait: it sometimes took each awhile to accept the advice of the other, but they always ended up coming around to it, beginning with the first Moment John chose to share with us, when he was 8 years old, living on their family farm in Gainesville, Virginia.
Tasked with taking care of six dogs, seven horses, 100 chickens and a pig, John was at first puzzled by his father’s advice on how he could end his losing streak in swimming competitions.
“My father came to me and said, ‘Do you wanna win?’ And I said, ‘Yessir, I’d love to win. I’m tired of getting beat.’ And he said ‘I want you to run three miles in the morning and two miles at night.’ And I thought to myself, ‘geez, I’m doing all this work around the farm, and that sounds like a lot of work … what’s that have to do with swimming?’ ”
Not wanting to challenge his father, he pondered the advice for a few days and then began to do the twice-a-day runs. At the end of the year, John won two state championships – beating those same boys that had been beating him earlier. He realized that his father had set him on a path to improve his physique, his attitude and, most important, his self-confidence.
Years later, when they had moved to north Metro Atlanta and John was developing into a star quarterback, he didn’t take Gary’s advice on which college to attend. His dad had suggested Georgia Tech, but John chose Georgia. John’s confidence took a hit in Athens during his freshman year and his father advised him in April to transfer to Tech – a move that would be considered treasonous to the Bulldog nation. Finally, in July, John told his father he was accepting his advice and he not only transferred to Tech, he flourished – becoming the only Tech quarterback to ever beat Georgia (click for video) two years in a row.
When John’s confidence wavered years later in commercial real estate, his father steeled him again, telling him it would take years to solidify his reputation in business, just as it had in sports. Dewberry Capital, which John leads (and for which his brother Doug is the Executive VP) has developed and purchased several high-profile properties along Peachtree while keeping other major tracts of land bare, waiting for better economic times. Through it all, John’s prowess has been questioned by competitors. Gary’s advice to his son: “All these people are not in your own huddle. Hold your own counsel.”
“Daddy was right,” John said, about swimming – and business. “Hard work pays off and it takes a long time for it to pay off and the correlation between what you think you are working on and the payoff is not always the same thing. I also see the same thing in business, you need inside to feel like you deserve to win and it blocks out all the insecurities. Like most people have a lot of insecurities – I’m the same.
“At my weakest moment at Athens, I thought I needed someone to come put their arm around me and let me cry on their shoulder and he got me in the car and he said, ‘John if you can’t throw the ball any better than that, you won’t play quarterback for any SEC or ACC team.’ ” It was tough advice coming from the man to whom John looked for strength.
So it was John’s turn last summer when he helped his father battle lung cancer. John pushed him into conventional remedies and some experimental medical trials. But after John read as much as he could about lung cancer and privately consulted his father’s physicians, he came to the conclusion his dad needed to stop focusing on recovery. He confronted him with his conclusion in the hospital.
“I think it’s time to come off the chemo,” John told him. “He got mad. ‘What are you telling me? I never taught you to quit! You telling me to quit?’ And I said, “You ought to say goodbye to people. Dad, you could get hit by a truck but who are you going to say goodbye to then?”
Two days later, Gary called John and thanked him for the advice that he knew had been tough to deliver. Reluctantly, his father agreed to quit the chemo. “Thank you for hitting me between the eyes with that. I’ve lived honorably and I’m going to die honorably,” Gary told his son.
John’s own battle with prostate cancer has been tough. John’s German pointer dog, named Georgia, which is always at his side, was the first one to notice something wrong with John. She sensed it and she smelled it. Three weeks later, John took a PSA test in which men normally scored a two or less. It was above 300. His doctor steered him into surgery and radiation. Later, his doctor pronounced him cancer-free. A few months ago, Georgia started giving John the same quizzical look she had before John was first diagnosed, so he returned for testing. His doctor sadly detected a small recurrence in his lymph glands, which has since been successfully treated, John reports.
John has been counted out several times before and he’s determined to win this most important of all games with his normal positive attitude and determined regimen. Yet he deeply misses his biggest fan: “I’ve been blessed with a lot of ‘A-ha Moments,’ but I have to say, they all came from … my father.”
Next week in Moments: Gary Price, Managing Partner of PWC Atlanta office, with a special Father’s Day Moment.
Don’t miss previous Moments from Season Two: Solon Patterson, Charles Ackerman,Santa Claus, Mark McDonald, Frank Skinner, Tom Murphy, Matt Arnett, Kasim Reed, Alana Shepherd, Charles Driebe, Hank Aaron, Kevin Rathbun, Larrie Del Martin, Mike Luckovich, Dan Matthews.
Don’t miss previous Moments from Season One: Arthur Blank, Doug Hertz, Thomas Dimitroff, Jenny Levison, Brad Cunard, Joe Roberts, Plemon El-Amin, Bob Williams, Gary Price, John Dewberry, Bill Tush, Milton Little, Hope Arbery, Bo Jackson, Lisa Borders, Tom Key, Bob Voyles, Joyce Fownes, Joel Babbit, John Pruitt, Noel Khalil, Chuck Leavell, Bill Nigut, Eveylyn Winn-Dixon, Steve Nygren, Chris White, Josh Starks, Ryan Gravel, Shirley Franklin, Sam Massell and Clark Howard.
Video by Reid Childers of Eyesome Productions.