Joe Wyatt Hodges of Hoover, Alabama, passed away peacefully on May 16, 2021, from complications resulting from Alzheimer’s disease. He was 84. He was a son, brother, husband, father, grandfather, friend and devoted follower of Christ. He was a decorated fighter pilot and Vietnam veteran, one heck of a golfer, an ardent ‘Bama fan (Roll Tide!) and a colorful storyteller who spoke his mind with a sense of humor. He is and always will be missed.
Joe was born to parents Lucy Cody and Randolph Hodges on October 10, 1936, in Fairmount, Georgia. Early on, Joe’s parents, a nurse and steel mill worker, moved to Fairfield, Alabama, where they raised Joe and his siblings James (Jim) and Patricia (Pat) just a block away from the high school they attended. While Joe had many deep friendships over the years, the most steadfast have been with his big brother and sister. With these three, love, laughter and a bit of mischief ruled the day.
His childhood home, which has been a source of many fond memories (and countless plates of Lucy’s biscuits and gravy), is still in the family today.
Joe graduated from Fairfield High School in 1955 and received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Howard College (now Samford University) in 1960. It was there he accidentally kicked the crutches of Sharon Brinkley, who was on the sidelines watching football practice. The fullback and linebacker who played under coach Bobby Bowden married the young co-ed in 1961 and had three children, Natalie, Joe Jr. and Jamie. While he consistently requested they all become pediatricians so he could live a life surrounded by babies, his children, none of whom went on to be doctors, were a tremendous source of pride.
Joe was devoted to Sharon, a resilient officer’s wife with a lifelong dedication to empowering people with developmental delays and physical disabilities. Joe was widowed suddenly after 34 years of marriage, and at the time, didn’t know another true and everlasting love was in his future.
Longtime friends Gail and Bob Lowery introduced Joe to a highly regarded Princeton Hospital anesthetist who would become his best friend and partner for life in 1996. Joe courted Ann Fant for a year before they married in the home they purchased together and lived in until his passing. His marriage to one of the most caring and compassionate women in Alabama gave Joe the blessing of two more grown children, Heath and Andrea. The marriage was full of precious moments with friends and family, including their great-granddaughter Kylee and grandchildren Ty, Alex, Maddie, Cat and Mick. Joe and Ann were to celebrate their silver anniversary in June.
As committed as he was to his family and Christ, Joe had an equal and unwavering loyalty to his country. Joe served first as an enlisted Marine in 1956 and was commissioned in the Air Force in 1962. His service as officer and fighter pilot included many combat sorties during the Vietnam War and took Joe and his family to many parts of the country, including Florida, Texas, Nevada, Virginia and Idaho. After 22 years of USAF service, he retired at Mountain Home Air Force Base a universally well-loved, greatly appreciated pilot and highly valued member of the 366th Tactical Fighter Wing staff and leadership.
Being part of a two-man crew that survived a wartime ejection from an uncontrollable F-111A aircraft, he swore from that day on he would never jump out of a perfectly good airplane as so many skydivers enjoy doing; it’s a promise he kept and spoke of often as he told wonderfully detailed stories of his service.
After retiring from the Air Force as Lieutenant Colonel, Joe bought a doughnut shop just outside Mountain Home Air Force Base so he could “continue to serve” all those who stopped in for coffee and breakfast on the way to the base. After passing the restaurant to his son, Joe welcomed the chance to extend his love and knowledge of aircraft and flying to young pilots by becoming a flight simulator instructor through McDonnell Douglas. He also served as a contractor for Texas Instruments and as Idaho House of Representatives Sergeant at Arms before hanging up all hats and heading to the golf course to work on his handicap.
Joe is survived by his wife Ann Hodges of Hoover, Alabama; sister Patricia Wilemon, of Fairfield, Alabama; daughter Natalie Lutes, son Joe Hodges Jr. (Kelley Edwards) and daughter Jamie Dillon of Boise, Idaho; stepchildren Andrea Sutton (Shawn Sutton) and Heath Fant of Hoover, Alabama; grandchildren Tyler Huff, Sharon Madison Lutes, Branson Alexander Fant, Catherine Dillon and Mick Dillon; great-granddaughters Kylee Edwards and Paysliegh Edwards; nieces Sherri Ryan, Amy Slamp, Kathy Sanders and Patti Wilemon and nephew Thomas Wilemon. He is preceded in death by his parents Lucy and Randolph Hodges, brother and sister-in-law James and Ann Hodges, brother-in-law Glen Wilemon and first wife Sharon Hodges.
A memorial service to celebrate the life of Joe will be held 2 p.m. Friday, May 21, 2021, with visitation immediately following at Hunter Street Baptist Church, 2600 John Hawkins Parkway, Hoover, Alabama. All friends and family are welcome. A private memorial for family will precede the service at Alabama National Cemetery in Montevallo.
In lieu of flowers and because of the joy he received from every child who crossed his path, the family requests donations be made in his memory to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (www.stjude.org