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Paul Abernathy

June 21, 2019 - 06:00
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March 22, 1932 - June 15, 2019

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Paul Abernathy, a longtime resident of Greensboro, died Saturday, June 15. He was 87. Born March 22, 1932, to John and Zora Abernathy in McCaysville, Georgia, Paul grew up in Blairsville, Georgia, and attended a one-room school-house. At 17, he went to Berry College, where he received a Bachelor of Science degree, working on the school farm to put himself through college. After graduating from Berry, Paul served for three years with U.S. Army Intelligence in Germany.

He then headed back home to Georgia to work on a master’s degree at the University of Georgia, where he met the love of his life, Mary Frances (Davis) Abernathy. They married in 1957. His first son, Carl, was born a year later in Ithaca, New York, while Paul was working on his Ph.D. at Cornell University. His other two sons, David and Dan, were born in Griffin, Georgia, while he worked at the Georgia Experiment Station. After six years there, the family moved to Blacksburg, Virginia, where Paul served as a professor of Foods and Nutrition for eight years.

In 1974, he accepted a position as head of Purdue University’s Department of Foods and Nutrition. During his 17 years as the department head, Paul molded the department into one of the top college nutrition programs in the country. He always told people during his 17 years as the head of Purdue University’s Department of Foods and Nutrition that he liked to hire faculty members smarter than him. Paul did hire great people and they loved him for his even-tempered, visionary leadership. Foods and Nutrition won a multitude of teaching awards at Purdue. Paul and his staff also turned the department into one of the preeminent research programs in the country, attracting millions of dollars in research grants.

He taught at Purdue for eight years after stepping down as the department head. In retirement, Paul and Mary Frances bought a home on Lake Oconee not too far from where Mary Frances grew up in Sparta. It also allowed Paul to indulge daily in his favorite hobby, fishing. He found plenty of time to volunteer too. Paul loved to tutor school children in math, and he spent a great deal of time serving his church. Over the years at First Baptist Church of Greensboro, Paul was a deacon, chairman of deacons, Sunday school teacher, church moderator, Pastor Search Committee Chairman and Sunday school director. He taught in several areas such as Vacation Bible school, AWANA and Royal Ambassadors. And he served as regional director for the Samaritan Purse Shoe Box Program.

Paul was preceded in death by his father, John; his mother, Zora; his brother, Bill; and his sister, Barbara. He is survived by his wife, Mary Frances; his three sons, Carl, David and Dan (Beth); two granddaughters, Annie and Amelia; and a sister, Dorothy.

Funeral services were held at 11 a.m., Tuesday, June 18, 2019 at the First Baptist Church, 203 S. Main Street, Greensboro, with Rev. Mark Jones officiating. The family received friends Monday, June 17, at the First Baptist Church from 5 p.m. until 7 p.m. Pallbearers were Randy Abernathy, Phillip Abernathy, Sidney Scoggins, Jerry Davis, Mike Davis, Cecil Scoggins, Bobby Moore, Darell Mixon, Jack Byers and Robert Byers. Interment followed in Sparta City Cemetery, Hamilton Street, Sparta. In lieu of flowers the family requests that memorials may be made to The First Baptist Church, 203 S. Main Street, Greensboro, or Greene County Habitat for Humanity, P O Box 321, Greensboro. McCommons Funeral Home, 109 W. Broad St., Greensboro, 706-453-2626, was in charge of arrangements. Visit us at to sign the online guest register.