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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:           LYONS JOEL HEYMAN

INTERVIEWER:      SANDRA BERMAN

LOCATION:             ROME, GEORGIA

DATE:                       2001

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Lyons Joel Heyman was born on January 25, 1928 in Atlanta, Georgia. His parents were Helene Joel and Charles Simon Heyman. He moved to Rome, Georgia as a child when his father founded Fox Manufacturing Company in Rome. After graduating from the Darlington School and Vanderbilt University he returned to Rome to work for Fox Manufacturing Company. He succeeded his father as president, and subsequently chair and CEO, of the company. He has served as president and board chair for the Southern Furniture Manufacturers Association (SFMA), the largest furniture trade association in the United States.

He is a life member of the Greater Rome Chamber of Commerce and has been a vice president of the YMCA and president of the Rome Rotary Club. He has served on the National and Southeastern regional boards of the Anti-Defamation League. He has been a member of the board and past president of the Rodeph Shalom Congregation.

He and his wife Jo Marks Heyman have three children: Deborah Heyman Harris, Lyons Joel Heyman Jr., and David Marks Heyman.

Scope of Interview:

Lyons talks about his family: his parents Helene Joel Heyman and Charles Simon Heyman, his maternal grandparents Lyons Barnett Joel and Ray Deborah Samuels Joel, his paternal grandparents Minna Simon Heyman and Arthur Heyman, and his brother Charles Simon Heyman, Jr. He says he was born in Atlanta but spent only his first ten years ten years there. He tells how his father co-founded, with Lawrence Fox, a furniture manufacturing business in Rome, Georgia—the Fox Manufacturing Company—which required his family to relocate from Atlanta to Rome when he was ten years old. He discusses his home and his neighbors on Horseleg Creek Road, the Morrison family and the O’Neill family. He talks about graduating from the Darlington School, a private elementary-high school, and Vanderbilt University. He discusses working for the Fox Manufacturing Company after graduating from Vanderbilt. He says the Fox Manufacturing Company flourished and added two plants in Dothan, Alabama and Lindale, Georgia.

He recalls his parent’s activities in the Rome community. He tells about his father’s role in raising money to construct a YMCA building in Rome. He mentions his father’s role in bringing the Community Concert Series to Rome.

He contrasts Jewish life in Atlanta with Jewish life in Rome. He relates that his family was more comfortable in the Reform Jewish community in Atlanta than the Jewish community in Rome that revolved around Rodeph Shalom Congregation which was Orthodox when they first moved to Rome. He talks about attending Sunday School at The Temple in Atlanta, but dropping out of Sunday School in Rome. He mentions that his parents socialized primarily with non-Jewish friends and neighbors in Rome. He talks about the transition of Rodeph Shalom from an Orthodox to a Reform congregation. He recalls his family’s involvement in Rodeph Shalom, how he and his father were both presidents of the congregation and his wife Jo was president of its sisterhood. He tells about the importance of its Sunday School to his children who attended schools where they were the only Jewish students. He mentions other active members of the congregation: Ruth and Oscar Borochoff, Rose Esserman and Jule Levin, Murray Stein, and Shelly Stein Peller. He mentions other members of the Jewish community in Rome: Max Meyerhardt, Eva and Louis Gavant, Mke Kraft, Joe Rothman, Isadore “I. M.” Levinson, Sol Schwartz, Babette and Herb Blumberg, Joe and Isadore Levy, Sylvia Esserman, Casper Stock, Louise Stein, Isaac May, Edna and Joe L. Sulzbacher, and Susan Gavant Wall. He recalls many of  their retail stores and manufacturing firms.

He remembers few, if any, instances of antisemitism during his childhood and business career in Rome. He tells how the small number of Jewish residents integrated into Rome’s overall community and about the positive influence of Rome’s Jewish merchants in the town. In his recollection of the Civil Rights Era, he cannot recall any active involvement of the Jewish community in Rome in the Civil Rights Movement.

He talks about dating non-Jewish girls and his social life revolving around non-Jewish activities and friends. He discusses meeting and marrying a Jewish girl, his wife Jo Marks Heyman.

He relays his satisfaction with the insulation of small-town life in Rome while enjoying proximity to Atlanta for cultural activities. He expresses concern at the dwindling Jewish population in Rome.

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