Life after 80: Bud and Pat Braddock find fulfillment in serving others in the north Georgia mountains


SUCHES, Ga. — Standing on a mountainside in north Georgia, Bud Braddock surveys a forest that’s beginning to take on the fiery colors of fall.

For 84 years, the retired U.S. Forest Service staffer has been watching the seasons come and go. It’s a makeover he never tires of seeing.

“It’s a tough life, but somebody’s got to do it,” he said, feigning hard luck as he stood beneath towering oaks just a mile or so as the crow flies from the Appalachian Trail.

Braddock worked 42 years for the Forest Service, living among the flora and fauna with Pat, his wife of 62 years. Both loved the sunshine and fresh air that came with his career. So, when retirement arrived in 1994, the Braddocks built a home in the woods.

Now, they spend time nearly every day walking beneath the hardwoods of Appalachia and leading groups of hikers to some of the state’s most scenic vistas.

The Braddocks approached retirement with a sense of excitement, realizing they still had much life to live and much left to give.

“My father told me, ‘son, when you retire, don’t sit on the porch in a rocking chair; you’ll be dead in two years,’” Mr. Braddock said. “So, I didn’t.”

Much of what they do now is through their church, Mount Lebanon Baptist, where he serves as a deacon and is involved in a variety of ministries to local residents.

Those ministries have had him arranging for wells to be drilled for neighbors who needed clean water, clearing brush from historic cemeteries, purchasing tombstones for families couldn’t afford to do it themselves, and buying Christmas gifts for children who may not otherwise get any.

“We fix screen doors, build handicap ramps, patch roofs, split wood, plow gardens,” Mr. Braddock said. “Whatever the need, we try to meet it.”

When the Braddocks walk out of their home near Suches, they are just steps away from a hardwood forest. This is the world they know best, and they’re willing to share that knowledge with others.

They walk the trails, pointing out plants and trees of interest, like American chestnut spouts still fighting for life more than a century after blight obliterated the species. Mrs. Braddock especially enjoys the wildflowers along the Appalachian Trail.

Mrs. Braddock, 83, said she believes living a healthy lifestyle throughout their lives has helped them to have vim and vigor now. She has never tasted alcohol and has never smoked a cigarette. Mr. Braddock once tasted booze and once tried to smoke a cigarette. Once, he said, was enough.

Mrs. Braddock said she’s proud that her husband can still outdo much younger hikers.

“That’s him,” she said. “He loves it, and he knows what he’s doing.”

Charles Jones, an avid hiker, said the Braddocks are inspiring to everyone who encounters them on the mountains.

“When you get into your 80s, you’re phenomenal if you’re still hiking the Appalachian Trail,” he said. “You see a few people in their 80s out there on the trails, but it’s rare.”

Mr. Braddock has seen the surprise in the faces of people he has encountered. He laughed about the time he was leading a group on a morning hike along the Appalachian Trail.

“A man stepped out of his tent and yelled for his wife,” Mr. Braddock recalled. “He said, ‘honey, you’ve got to see this. Here comes Moses, leading his people out of the wilderness.’”