Joe Bob Gilham
Joe Bob Gilham, Vietnam veteran and fishing enthusiast, was the inspiration for VFO. Joe Bob was born March 26, 1948 in Randolph County, Alabama. He went to school in Rock Mills, Alabama but dropped out when he was 16 to work in the local mill. He was drafted into the Army in October of 1967 at the age of 19, and sent to ChuChi, Vietnam. He served in the 25th Infantry Division, 3rd Squadron, 4th Calvary, A Troop, as a tank driver. His comrades called him, “Alabama.” Joe Bob served as a reservist for two more years after his discharge from the Army.
Joe Bob came home to Alabama and took a job driving a truck. Later, a log truck driver, Joe Bob was also responsible for helping to load and tie down the logs with chains. He began to notice that he could no longer throw the chain over the logs. The strength in his arms was ebbing. He also noticed that his arms were shrinking in size. His former sister-in-law, a nurse, sent him to see a doctor in Upson County. From there he was sent to have some nerve tests in Columbus, Georgia. He was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also called Lou Gehrig’s Disease. As the disease progressed, he was declared 100% disabled by the Social Security Administration and later by the Veterans Administration. It was acknowledged that exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam contributed to this condition.
Joe Bob grew up on Rock Mills Creek and learned to fish from the bank. He always enjoyed hunting and fishing, but later in life decided he didn’t like to kill. He switched to fishing exclusively. He threw most fish back or brought them home and released them in a lake on his property. His first boat was a shared purchase with friend, Darby Head of Roanoke, Alabama. Fishing became his favorite activity. As his disease advanced, it became more difficult and finally impossible for him to put his boat in the water alone. Ken Bearden, VFO founder, came frequently to take Joe Bob fishing. These times on the water were so special for Ken and met a need in Joe Bob’s life.
Marie Gilham, Joe Bob’s wife of 32 years and retired kindergarten teacher, said of Joe Bob, “He was such a patient man.” Marie suffered from kidney failure for many years before receiving a kidney transplant in 2010. She said Joe took care of her. She also reports that Joe frequently mowed the grass of elderly widows in the community and would take no money from them. His friends at the volunteer fire department, where he served for 34 years, describe him as dedicated and the best fish batterer in the department. He was instrumental in the annual fish fry fundraiser for the fire department. Don Quick, a Vietnam veteran and Joe’s pastor, said of Joe Bob, “He loved his country and his community.” Ken Bearden adds that, “Joe Bob loved to fish.” Joe Bob died on July 30, 2013.