We often talk about Ethel Stuckey — W.S. Stuckey’s wife and perfector of the popular Stuckey’s Pecan Log Roll — as being the matriarch of both the Stuckey family and the Stuckey’s “family” (that includes you). Indeed, she was a loving wife, doting mother and grandmother, as well as a keen businesswoman who served as Vice President of Stuckey’s until the family empire was sold in 1964.

But if it hadn’t been for another woman in W.S.’s life, there wouldn’t have been pecans or Pecans Log Rolls, and certainly no fondly remembered roadside stops at a famous pecan shop. That woman was Cora Lee Williamson, W.S.’s maternal grandmother.

Williamson Sylvester “W.S.” Stuckey was born on March 26, 1909 to William Ira and Sallie Lee (nee Williamson) Stuckey in Dodge County, GA. Six-years later, he would be followed by a brother, Felix Jay, and everything seemed idyllic for the little cotton-farming family of four there in Eastman, Georgia.

However, tragedy would strike the Stuckey family in 1923 when Sallie Lee would die from pneumonia at the tender age of 33. Shortly after, the 14-year-old W.S. and his eight-year-old brother Felix were sent to live with their grandmother, Cora Lee Williamson. That would turn out to be the most significant turning point in Stuckey’s life.

Cora Lee always saw the potential for success in her grandson.
Photo: Stuckey’s Corp.

Strong-willed and determined, Cora Lee quickly became a maternal figure for young Stuckey, providing strong guidance and instilling the traits of having a good character by being honest and trustworthy — traits that Stuckey would carry with him the rest of his life.

Cora Lee also stressed the importance of education, and after W.S. graduated high school, Cora paid for him to attend the University of Georgia Law School from 1926 to 1928. Unfortunately, W.S. had to drop out in his third year when the Great Depression hit. With cotton prices dropping to rock bottom, his father’s farm was failing. W.S. headed back to Eastman to help out.

When he returned home, however, the situation was even bleaker than he could have imagined. As family lore tells it, plowing mules would often just fall over from hunger and exhaustion, and W.S. would have to lift them up back on their feet again.

But W.S. was energetic and resourceful. He had a couple of side hustles, like selling wood and railroad cross ties, and by the end of 1931, he had earned enough to get married to the most beautiful girl in all of Eastman, GA, Ethel Mullis. The newlyweds set up house at Cora Lee’s. By 1933, the farm situation — and the economy — wasn’t getting any better. Hat in hand, W.S. paid a visit to family friend, Mr. Fred E. Bennett, Sr., asking him for work.

“Well,” Bennett started, “you got that nice Ford Coupe there. Why don’t you ride around the country and buy some pecans these fellas are growing ‘round here and I’ll try and help you sell ‘em. All you’ll need is around $35, and you’re on your way.”

Stuckey was a bit hesitant. He didn’t have $35, but agreed anyway. That night he went home and told his grandmother about the situation.

Cora Lee always saw something special in W.S. and knew he had the potential to do whatever he set his mind to. She would often express this belief in her grandson to anybody she’d come across. That night, she loaned him the $35. In the morning, W.S. took the $35 dollars, bought pecans, and sold them, making a small profit during the day. That night, he paid his grandmother the $35 back. The next morning, and the next, and the next, he would borrow the $35 again … and soon W.S. had a pecan-selling business.

Stuckey’s Pecan Shack that would one day lead to over 350 Stuckey’s locations nationwide.
Photo: Stuckey’s Corp.

However, that’s not all that Cora did to help young Williamson. When he was just starting out in the pecan business, W.S. didn’t know a Stuart pecan from a Moreland pecan. Cora came up with a clever idea: She put different sample types of pecans in paper bags, carefully labeling each one — “Stuart,” “Moreland,” “Cape Fear,” etc., and she’d quiz W.S. on them every night.

By 1936, W.S. had made enough money to go into the business of buying and selling pecans for himself. One morning, he woke up and started nailing pieces of wood together until he had built himself a little lean-to out on U.S. Route 23, selling pecans to tourists on their way to and from Florida. 

In 1938, W.S. sold his lean-to a local farmer who turned it into a chicken shack. He replaced it with the first Stuckey’s Pecan Shoppe — complete with a candy kitchen where they could make Ethel’s popular Pecan Log Rolls— right there on U.S. Route 23 in Eastman, Georgia. Another soon followed in Unadilla. Then another in Florida and, though there were some setbacks due to rationing during World War II, Stuckey’s began popping up all over the Southeast.

The traits that Cora Lee taught young Stuckey like honesty and hard-work made him a likable, honest guy that people naturally wanted to be around.
Photo: Stuckey’s Corp

W.S. later told a friend that, when he was a boy, he used to go into the town of Eastman and always pass by this big beautiful Victorian house that he admired. In 1942, he and Ethel would buy that house, bringing Grandmother Cora Lee with them. The home would become the center of family activities for many years after.

By 1953, Stuckey’s had its own candy-making plant behind the original Eastman store, and over 100 stores dotted the highways and byways of America. Indeed, W.S. was now the success that Cora Lee always believed he would be. She died on July 3rd of that year. And much like Cora Lee used to speak so proudly of W.S. every chance she got, so W.S. would always say that he was blessed with a grandmother that made him the man that he was.

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Stuckey’s would like to remind you that Mother’s Day doesn’t have to be only about mamas. Maybe you have a grandmother like Cora Lee. Perhaps an aunt, older sister, or neighbor was your mother figure. Whoever it was, your “mama” deserves the best Mother’s Day gift this year, so why not get her the Stuckey’s Mama’s Day Gift Box to show her how much you appreciate her always being there for you? The Stuckey’s Mama’s Day Gift Box includes all the pecan-y goodness she loves about Stuckey’s: three 2-oz. Pecan Log Rolls, one 8-oz. bag of Caramel Popcorn, one 6-oz. Pecan Log Roll, one 8-oz. Pecan Divinity Tub, one 9-oz. bag of Pecan Halves, one 4-oz. bag T&S Pecans, one Candy Shop Coffee Mug, and one Recipe Card.

Those living east of Mississippi must order by May 3, 2021 to get your Mama’s Day Gift Box delivered in time for Mother’s Day, May 9th. West coasters, sorry, but if you order now, your order will arrive late (Better late than never!). For more information about the Mama’s Day Gift Box, our world-famous Pecan Log Rolls or any of our other Stuckey’s merchandise, visit our website at stuckeys.com.

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