CLINE: A smile that won't be forgotten

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

That smile is right up there. Anyone who ever met Jamie Britt remembers it. It was both disarming and inviting, making him easy to befriend.

John Small did just that. Now the head football coach at South Gwinnett High School, Small came to Snellville in 1999 as an assistant and it didn't take him long to become buddies with a man who was a friend to everyone and everything related to South Gwinnett.

That's a tough thing to say goodbye to. So with spring football practice a month or so in the offing, Small isn't sure what he'll do without his friend. He'll miss Britt's smile, his loyal nature and his devotion to the program. But more than anything, he'll miss the positive attitude that always came with that signature smile.

"What set him apart was how optimistic he was," Small said. "Even in his battle with cancer. He was always thinking of other people; it was never about himself. He drew people to him with his attitude -- he had a zeal for life.

"He never wanted to talk about himself. He always wanted to know how everyone else was doing."

Jamie Britt died on Feb. 21 after battling cancer. The Loganville resident was 48, leaving behind wife Juli, sons Jordan and Jeremy and daughter Jillian. There was an overflow crowd at his visitation and funeral, more proof of the impact he had on the tight-knit community.

"We'd all be lucky to have a third of the friends he had, and that would still be a lot," said Small, who spoke at the funeral. "(That turnout) showed the impact he had on a lot of people. I know he had a lot of friends, and I'm glad I was able to call him my friend."

Britt was vice president of his family's business -- Britt's Home Furnishings -- but a more apt title would have been mayor of South Gwinnett, where he graduated in 1982. He was one of those people who could always be found at the school, helping and supporting in whatever way he could. He and his company donated money as well, but that couldn't compare to the time and energy he put into South and its various programs.

If you wonder how much he loved South football, consider that his family asked for donations to be made to the Touchdown Club in lieu of flowers.

"One of the greatest things about South Gwinnett is community support," said Small, who has been head football coach since 2005. "I don't many places where it's as good as South in supporting the school, and Jamie was right at the top.

"The thing that makes these people stand out is they are always behind you. They are so loyal."

None more than Britt. A constant presence in the football press box, he was there before games and after, sitting with the coaches into the wee hours of Saturday morning talking about the game. Despite those late hours, Britt would still find time to call coaches later that day, bucking them up after a loss or complimenting them after a victory.

"You were always going to get a call every Saturday morning from him -- an encouraging call," Small said. "He's one of the most positive people I've ever been around. When he showed up he lit up a room. He always had a smile on his face."

His gift was helping others affect a similar smile. Owing to Britt's personality, Small and his coaching staff like the others who knew and loved him, are trying to stay positive as they prepare for life without that smile. But it won't be easy, not when a man makes an impact like Britt did, becoming "like a brother" to the coaches.

To that respect, Small pays his friend the ultimate coaching compliment.

"He was one of us," he said. "He bled blue."

Email Toddd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays.