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Friends remember former Athens mayor

By Holly Hollman · 340-2445

ATHENS — Losing her husband on Christmas Day is especially sorrowful for Lou Nichols, but the stories his friends are sharing give her a reason to chuckle through the tears.

Former Athens Mayor Maurice “Mushie” Nichols, 88, died Monday at Limestone Health Facility. He served as mayor from 1984-88.

Under Nichols’ tenure, the city built the current council chambers, cleaned cemeteries and gave Council on Aging a home on Pryor Street in the old armory, Mayor Dan Williams said.

But it’s the funny stories that Williams and other past coworkers enjoy telling, especially how Nichols tried to keep his smoking habit a secret from his wife by using orange spray.

“He smelled like a mashed orange all the time,” said Williams, who was a councilman during Nichols’ tenure. “He would be smoking and spraying at the same time.”

Becky Hannah, Nichols’ secretary, said she would spray him down before he went home.

“He thought he was pulling something on Lou, but he wasn’t,” Hannah said.

Nichols wife said the tactics didn’t fool her because she caught him slipping behind bushes to smoke or found cigarette butts floating in the pool.

“One time he came rolling in on his scooter, and I found a pack in the scooter basket,” she said. “I told him if he wanted to see cigarettes burn, then he would see it, and I threw them on a burn pile. That was the last pack he bought.”

Lou Nichols said her husband had open heart surgery while mayor and was supposed to quit, which is why he hid his smoking.

Current Councilman Ronnie Marks, who served as councilman under Nichols, said that during work sessions, the council room would get so full of smoke it was “like being in a bar room in Tennessee.”

“Mushie and some of those other councilmen would get to chain smoking and picking up each others’ cigarettes,” Marks said.

Hannah said during a 1985 ice storm that left the city paralyzed, Nichols had a police officer pick him and her up for work and take them home. On one trip home, the officer’s car slid at Market and Hammons streets and ran into a ditch.

Just before the accident, Hannah said, Nichols had asked the officer to stop at Jiffy so he could grab some groceries.

“Mayor Nichols said we were staying in the car until the wrecker pulled us out because our doors were trapped,” Hannah said. “So there he sat clutching eggs in one arm and a carton of cigarettes in the other.”

Nichols’ friends also tell about him being a caring man.

Recently, a needy mother came to Williams’ office, and Williams referred her to various organizations that provide financial help.

“I asked her why she came to me,” Williams said. “She said, ‘I saw Mayor Nichols at the nursing home, and he told me to see you.’ Mushie always wanted to take care of folks, and here he was just weeks before his death, trying to help this mother.”

Hannah said Nichols constantly complimented workers, and gave her a plaque when he left office.

“He loved praising people so much, I often wondered if that’s how he got his nickname,” Hannah said.

Lou Nichols said her husband has been “Mushie” since a child. He was “Big Mushie” and his younger brother “Little Mushie.”

“And no one has ever been able to tell me how that got started,” she said. “The only time he wasn’t called Mushie was when he served in the military, because he would have killed me if I let that get out.”

Nichols was a World War II veteran and retired as a major after 28 years in the Army.

He spent many Saturdays in his wheelchair at the Alabama Veterans Museum and Archives in Athens, where he was a board member.

“It hasn’t felt like Christmas for me and the children,” Lou Nichols said. “There were people crying harder than me Monday, so I know he was loved.”

Visitation is today from noon to 2 p.m. at First United Methodist Church in Athens with McConnell Funeral Home directing. The funeral will follow at 2.

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