Ernest Fillmore Jessee III

Ernest Fillmore Jessee, III, 77, better known as “Fil,” of Braselton, Georgia, died Saturday evening, January 28, following a lengthy illness. Born in Lynchburg, Virginia on January 18, 1946, Fil was the only child of Elizabeth Jean Wood (nee Arington) and E. Garrison Wood. His paternal father, Ernest Fillmore Jessee, Jr., was killed while serving in the military in France in April of 1946. Fil spent much of his childhood in Lynchburg, but it was the wild forests and swamps surrounding their second home in Winter Haven, Florida that captured his imagination. He was a talented painter and his artwork almost always depicted tropical scenes or swamps. The son of a teacher and a banker, Fil was a creative, adventurous, mischievous boy. The wild beauty of Florida inspired Fil to recreate exotic botanical beauty in his own yard at an early age. Outside, digging in the dirt and transplanting orchids, he was in his element. He was an active swimmer and told tales of all the boys swimming across the numerous alligator infested lakes of Central Florida. He also glued candy to a tree once and sold it to some of those same boys, convincing them it would continue to produce candy “fruit.” Fil first studied at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, following in the footsteps of Ernest, Jr. Eager to follow his own path, he transferred to Oglethorpe University. Here Fil met Valera Arlene Bagwell and fell in love. Quickly after graduating, they were married and moved into a house in Duluth, Georgia. Fil took a job with Georgia Department of State Parks as an information officer in 1969. His job was to write stories about every Georgia State Park to inspire people to visit them. This took Fil and Valera from the Okefenokee Swamp to Cloudland Canyon and everywhere in between. It was the beginning of a lifetime of travel. Eventually Fil left the department to become a freelance travel writer. This led to a jet-set life for Valera and Fil as they traveled all over the Caribbean on many cruises; took a train trip across the entirety of Canada; and ventured into Alaska. Fil would write stories all about the places they visited to be published by a number of media outlets. Through his work promoting the nation of Grenada, he was named as an honorary consul. This also led Fil to coordinate humanitarian efforts to support the people of Grenada which led to him being knighted by the Sovereign Greek Order of St. Dennis of Zante. Fil also coordinated efforts between the Georgia Pest Control Association and CARE International to find a solution to food loss in Ethiopia in 1985. Fil had many professions in the span of his career, but the one that stood out most was his ability to promote and coordinate events from conferences to grand openings. He loved to create a theme for his openings, which often led to employing celebrity impersonators. It was not uncommon to see Fil with Marilyn Monroe, Crocodile Dundee, Michael J. Fox or Frank Sinatra. Fil eventually founded the International Guild of Celebrity Impersonators and Tribute Artists which would serve as a trade organization for his clients. In 2005, Fil and Valera moved to Braselton, Georgia. Anyone who has seen Fil’s garden knows he tried to transplant half of Florida as well. Fil and Valera continued to travel over the last 10 years, checking off life-list adventures like the United Kingdom, Yellowstone National Park, and taking a river cruise through central Europe. Fil continued to write for the Braselton News and loved to tell the stories of unique local residents. No matter where he was, his heart was always in the tropics. Whether painting palm trees, planting them, or waxing poetic about Polynesian culture while wearing his ubiquitous Hawaiian shirts, he was never happier than when he was among his plants. He died at home with his family, tropical plants, paintings, dog and birds all around him. Fil is survived by his wife of 54 years, Valera, and mother Jean, both of Braselton; son Daniel Garrison Jessee and daughter-in-law Julia Ellen Granger of Brevard, North Carolina. A funeral service is scheduled for Thursday, February 2 at 11:00am at Chestnut Mountain Presbyterian Church. The family will receive guests from 10:00am to 11:00am. Interment will follow on Saturday, February 4 at Spring Hill Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia. Arrangements by Lawson Funeral Home 4532 Hwy 53 Hoschton, Ga., 30548. 706-654-0966.