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‘Life built around service’: Dawson County business owner Larry Banister remembered by friends and family
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Larry Banister, far right, receives his lifetime achievement award in 2010. - photo by For the Dawson Community News

Larry Banister passed away on May 4, 2020, but he will be remembered for many reasons. 

According to friends and loved ones, Banister was a family man, a role model and a part of making Dawson County what it is today.

Banister was born and raised in Gainesville, but lived in Dawson County with his wife Joyce for much of his adult life. According to those that knew him best, during those years, Banister helped to build up Dawson County to what it would become. 

“I don’t think there was anything Larry wasn’t involved in,” Joyce Banister said. “He sat on every board and he wanted to do everything that he could for people.”

Banister owned the Dawsonville Men’s Shop for 11 years and the Marble and Granite Company for 28 years. He was a partner with his father in Banister Funeral Home in Dawsonville from 1965 to 1991, and in 1984 he founded Banister Funeral Home in Dahlonega with Joyce. 

But what many may not know, is that Banister was the first realtor in Dawson County, according to Joyce. While he didn’t do it for very long, due to the pressures of running a funeral home business, Banister made his mark on the real estate industry in the county, Joyce said.

“One time he sold a farm and the guy couldn’t afford to pay Larry’s fee, so Larry financed it for him,” Joyce said. “So he paid us every December for 7 years and that was our Christmas money.”

Banister started a low-income daycare and was the main person in starting the Dawson County Fall Festival, a celebration that eventually became the Dawsonville Moonshine Festival. Banister was also instrumental in getting the first ambulance and fire truck in Dawson County, and during that time he became one of the county’s first registered emergency medical technicians.

“He put in a request for them to get a real ambulance instead of picking people up in a hearse,” Joyce said. “So he got that and then he got a fire truck, and then he became the fireman.”

Lanier Swafford, Regional EMS Director for Region 2 in Georgia, worked for Banister for 25 years and became close friends with him during that time.

“I’d known the Banisters all my life; as a kid, they were just people in the community that you knew,” Swafford said. “When I was 14 years old, they were looking for somebody to cut grass and wash cars at the funeral home and they gave me that opportunity. We had a relationship ever since then.”

According to Swafford, Banister was an instrumental piece in helping him figure out what he wanted to do with his life.

“I created a lot of my interests in what I’ve done in funeral services and emergency services by being present and watching how they interacted with people and how they performed the job and the memories that they shared of early days of EMS,” Swafford said. “I don’t know what guided me on the path that I’m on, the good lord did, but I guess that those examples and stories spoke loudly to me as a young boy.”

They remained friends even after Swafford had moved on to another job, he said. 

“He was one of those people who was more than an employer, he was a friend,” Swafford said. 

Swafford said that the thing about Banister he remembers the most was how he lived to serve others. 

“Larry’s life was built around service and he typically put others before himself,” Swafford said. “That always spoke very loudly to me was his sacrifice and service.”

According to Joyce, this was a mindset that her husband carried with him up until the day he passed away.

“Before he passed, he said to me, ‘You know honey, my prayer is that I’ve done enough for everyone’,” Joyce said. “And I said, ‘Honey you’ve done enough, you’re okay.’”