Local businessman retires after long “colorful” career in sign industry

RYAN ROSS ::: 

It was 1949 at a fruit stand on the side of Old Highway 41 just south of Spring Creek, Georgia when a 12 year old boy asked his father if he could paint his produce signs for him. That boy was Robert Presley and now at age 75, with over 62 years in the sign industry, he has decided that it is time to retire. Most of those years were spent serving Griffin and surrounding areas and he has more than enjoyed what he calls a “very colorful career.”

When Robert Presley began painting the signs for his father’s fruit stand, the local citizens and business owners immediately took notice. He started to receive requests for signs of all kind and began his lifelong career of creating custom works of art. With the passing of his Grandfather Alexander Presley, with whom young Robert was very close, a valuable trait was instilled. Young Presley sat by his casket until he was given back to the earth. During this time Presley recalls the then Mayor of Cartersville paying his respects. “The mayor reached down and patted me on the head and said, ‘There lays old honest Alex,’” and that was never forgotten. Presley decided then and there that he wanted to be remembered this way. “Treat everyone right in what you do, keep your word.” says Presley. “Don’t lie to nobody, your word is your bond.” This became his creed.

Sheffield signs recruited Robert to come and work with their company in the afternoons after school, his first professional working experience, further tuning his artistry. Presley states, “You had to be gifted to do this. Nobody picks up a brush and starts painting signs. It’s a God given talent.” In 1951 the Presley family moved to Griffin. Robert would ride his bicycle from business to business picking up jobs painting store fronts and signs. In 1953 he was hired by the Phillip-Brown Sign Company where he worked before joining the US Air Force in June of ‘54. While enlisted, his talents were immediately utilized and he was in charge of all paint shops, painting and lettering airplanes such as the B47 bomber that flew its last flight in 1966. Stationed in Savannah, Albany, the Aleutian Islands, and Nashville, Presley continued to do work for the public. Having had sign shops in Alaska and Tennessee while also running a sign painting business out of  his ’41 Oldsmobile with a sign kit he had done it all, almost.

Presley returned to Griffin in 1963. “When I came back out of the Air Force I had a pregnant wife, two little boys, a ’53 Roadmaster Buick and $200 in my Pocket.” Remembering gratefully those that helped him start his business, “‘Old Man’ Will Hill Newton gave me the building on credit. Commercial Bank lender C.T. Parker gave me a $600 loan. Johnny Paris sold me a Studebaker Truck on credit, and Buckles Hardware sold me the sign supplies on credit.” Within one year business was booming. His first signs in Griffin were for Slade Realty. He has since made signs for the likes of local companies such as FNB, Hammond services, UGA, United Bank and Spalding Gas, just to name a few of the hundreds if not thousands he has created. During all of this Presley also managed to build 11 churches and receive a doctorate in law. He also was a member of a Country/Gospel band named “Loving Country” in which he sang vocals and played guitar. He chose to stick with his passion of sign making rather than become a lawyer and still enjoys playing music to this day.

Although his first sign computer was bought in 1987, he hand painted signs all the way to 2007, when he went to full time computer created signs. In those years he created signs of all kinds from High Rise and billboards to neon lit and campaign signs. He remembers having to remove the old paint from signs with a blowtorch to melt it so that he could wipe it away with a rag in order to make way for the new paint job. Climbing was a big part of his job in the early days. It became easier in modern times with the widespread use of computers. Not only did he do business for Griffin, Robert Presley’s signs could be seen all over the Southeast.

Presley recalls his career more fondly than most would. His passion shines through him like the first light of day through the blinds in the mornings. His decision to retire is bittersweet as he states, “It brings tears to my eyes to think about quitting but it’s time.” The Presley legacy will carry on with his son Zack of Signs by Zack also in Griffin. Zack has been painting signs with his father since he was 6 years old and has grown to be a successful professional sign maker himself. Mr. Presley concludes with the attached “Ode to sign Kit” which he has held onto for 40 years knowing that one day he would use it and publish upon his retiring. “It’s the story of my life,” says Presley. He also would like to specially thank the people of Griffin and the surrounding areas for all their business and support.

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