James “Jim” E. Preuitt, 86, of Talladega, passed away on Sunday, Sept. 19, at Citizen’s Baptist Medical Center in Talladega.
He was born the son of a sharecropper on July 19, 1935, in Moulton, Alabama, to Lily Frances Naylor and Howard Bluitt Preuitt. As the oldest of seven sons, Jim quickly learned the value of hard work. He worked alongside his father and younger siblings farming land belonging to others igniting a relentless drive and determination that never left him. In his teenage years, Jim met the love of his life, Rona Jane Millsap, on a school bus to Danville High School. They would soon marry and spend 66 years together.
After graduating, all Jim wanted to do was work – and there weren’t many jobs he turned down. After growing up around tractors and farm engines, Jim used that experience to get work as a bus driver and mechanic. He spent his weekends washing cars at a service station in Hartselle.
He later would operate his own Pure Oil truck stop while making regular trips to Chicago to find damaged cars to tow back to Alabama to repair and sell. The appeal of engines and automobiles led him to Nicholson Ford in Hartselle, where he started in the service department and worked his way toward selling new Fords. It wasn’t long before Jim realized he wanted his own dealership. In 1968, he convinced some backers to take a chance on him. He was approved as a Chrysler – Plymouth automobile dealer and Jim moved his wife and two daughters to Talladega where he lived for the rest of his life.
Jim went on to own and operate several dealerships in and around Talladega and decided to try his hand at politics a few years later. In 1982, on a dare, he tossed his hat in the ring for a seat in the Alabama House of Representatives. After serving one term, he ran for a seat in the Alabama Senate and served almost 30 years in the Alabama Legislature as well as serving as the probate judge of Talladega County. His love and compassion for his constituents and his desire to tackle important issues made him a perfect fit for this endeavor.
Ultimately, his faith in God and his compassion for others guided his life and career.
The importance of family trumped ambition. Jim’s heart was always centered on his wife, children and extended family, but his greatest pride and joy came from his grandchildren.
Nothing made Jim happier than family gatherings both at his farm and north Alabama, Jim was preceded in death by his parents and he and his family weathered the tragic death of Benjamin Preuitt Stanford, his youngest grandson at the age of 17. Jim is survived by his wife Rona Jane Millsap, his daughter, Lynne Preuitt Stanford (husband Bill), his grandson, William Preuitt Stanford, and his daughter, Leigh Preuitt Leak (husband Joe), and his granddaughters, Caroline Frances Leak and Virginia Merritt Leak. Jim is also survived by six brothers: Gene Elton Preuitt, Kenneth Lamar Preuitt (Ann), Johnny O’Neal Preuitt (Rebecca), Eddie Howard Preuitt (Debbie), Alton Ray Preuitt (Doretha), Michael Wayne Preuitt (Sonya) and Marcia Jane Preuitt (stepmother), as well as many beloved nieces and nephews.
Due to COVID, the family will have a private service.
Jim and Rona were members of the First Baptist Church of Talladega and request that remembrances be made in the form of contributions to The Whosoever Will Foundation in Talladega, Alabama: P.O. Box 299, Talladega, AL 35161 or WISE, The Woolley Institute for Spoken Language in Birmingham, Alabama: 2305 Montevallo Road, Birmingham, AL 35223.
Online condolences may be offered at usreyfuneralhome.com. Usrey Funeral Home of Talladega is directing services.