Dr. William B. Dragoin

Published 1:21 pm Thursday, January 4, 2024

Dr. William B. Dragoin of Americus, Georgia passed away at his home December 23, 2023. Bill, as he was known by all, was born in 1939 in Dothan, Alabama. The youngest son and baby of the family, Bill was the fourth child of Lillian Odessa Bailey and Anthony “Andy” Dragoin, who were both agents for the railroad. He was proud of his very modern working mother, his raconteur father, and his rural upbringing, tempered by rides on the trains to New Orleans and St Louis which provided him with many of the good stories he loved to tell. He was doted on by his older sisters Peggy and Shirley, and he survived the times when he was left in the care of his brother, Anthony “Sonny” Dragoin, who was twelve years his senior.Bill joined the Army in 1957 (in retaliation for his mother’s taking away the car keys to the Thunderbird) and was stationed until 1960 in Berlin in the Security Agency in communication intelligence. In those three years he explored western Europe as only a teenager from rural Alabama could—taking a chairlift to the top of the Zugspitze with every intention of skiing down it, ordering an espresso in Rome only to be mystified by what he called “a tiny cup of the worst coffee ever,” and posing with a suitcase and a hitchhiker’s thumb in front of a sign that read “You Are Leaving the American Sector.” 

The GI Bill took him to Troy State University where he met and, after a first date over cold beer and raw oysters, fell in love with Camille Parker. They married and welcomed Regina and Anthony into the world while Bill completed a masters degree at Auburn University in 1965 and a PhD at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University in 1969, where he published research on learned taste aversion which is still cited today.

Bill was lured to Georgia Southwestern College in 1972 to serve as chair of the Psychology Department and director of the Charles L. Mix Fund, a private foundation that supports mental health research and programs in Southwest Georgia. Bill held these positions until his retirement in 1999. He was an active member of many professional organizations. He was an NEH Seminarian at Stanford University and the University of Rochester. In the late 1980s he pursued an interest in modern brain research that led to influential papers on the role of gender fluidity in society. 

Bill found his fountain of youth in the self-created role of a grown-up Huck Finn man of science. He relished terrible jokes, practical jokes, bawdy stories, irreverent humor, and word play of all sorts— which he delivered with comedic timing, squinting his blue eyes, and twirling his mustache with delight. While he had a passion for psychology, that joy was anchored in his interest in the world around him and in his enthusiasm for learning. He was delighted by technology—from the early days of computers with punch cards through to his post-retirement command center of laptop, smartphone, and cable TV. He embraced each new instance of the “brave new world” before him, frequently commenting upon his own amazement with the statement: “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Good at so many things (terrible at guitar), Bill was a Scoutmaster, a journalist for the student newspaper, a photographer with a couple of awards, an armchair pundit, and the frequent life of the party. He loved parsing current events with friends over scotch, taking on parts in community theater, shooting pool, camping, canoeing, water skiing, and fishing. He relished his years of beating younger opponents in tennis with wicked ball placement, making a mockery of their power shots from the baseline. He was always up for a throwing a football in the back yard. He stated on many occasions that the only card games worth a damn are Poker, Pinochle, Bridge and Hearts. With that preamble, Bill presided over marathon sessions of Hearts with hapless neighborhood teenagers, counting cards and crushing them with frequent moon shots, all the while performing a rascally monologue of snappy table talk.

It is worth remembering that as beloved as Bill was by family, friends, colleagues, and students, he was also particularly loved by dogs. He could walk into any house, string together a dozen insults directed at the dog (“you ugly, no-good, cross-eyed mongrel from the gates of hell…”), and he would have a friend for life. But beyond that rowdy play, he was also a behaviorist with layers of tactics for training animals. He owned a succession of well-trained dogs, no doubt the pinnacle of them being Daisy the wonder lab who provided frequent demonstrations of her profound intelligence in classes at GSW. 

When Bill first experienced heart problems in middle age, he approached his new medical realities with the mind of a scientist. He radically changed his diet (perfecting his turnip soup recipe), and he took up golf. Bill savored afternoons at Brickyard with friends (and the occasional alligator), improved his lie without apology, and sang “Rockin’ Robin” in full voice whenever he produced the unlikely birdie.

In the year 2000 he was devastated by the death of his wife Camille. But he found love again when he married Carlanda Green in 2002. As anyone who has ever seen Bill’s Facebook page knows, he faithfully called Carlanda “Ms. Dahlin” on any occasion, large or small. In retirement Bill divided his time between Americus and Asheville, North Carolina. He and Carlanda traveled with his friends the Peabodys, Urdas, and Jacksons. And he dedicated himself to enjoying the role of Papa to his three grandchildren, Parker, Chandler, and Blue.

During his most recent hospital stay he readily discussed world politics and the development of AI. He interacted with friends and former students, sending Christmas greetings. He discoursed on the finer points of making good Brunswick stew, and conversed with the night nurse in German. His spirits were good, he was entertained and entertaining, and then he was quite ready to quit the hospital and get back to Americus and to Carlanda, with whom he was so happy for so many years. On Saturday afternoon, fatigued by a brief walk around the neighborhood to get fresh air, Bill slipped away while napping, an untouched glass of iced tea melting on the bedside table. We should all be so fortunate.

Bill is survived by wife, Carlanda Dragoin, his daughter, Regina, his son Anthony, his son-in-law Dr. John Ammon, his stepson, Robert Cohen, his three grandchildren, Parker Dragoin, Chandler Dragoin, and John Parker “Blue” Ammon. He is predeceased by his first wife Camille Parker Dragoin and by his siblings, Peggy, Shirley and Sonny, and his parents, Odessa and Andy Dragoin.

A Celebration of Bill’s Life reception will be held 2:00 – 4:00 on Sunday, January 14, 2024, at 149 Taylor Street in Americus (Bill’s former home and now the home of his son, Anthony). 

To sign the online guest book and share your condolences with the family, please visit aldridgefuneralservices.com.