The beauty-pageant contestants glided across stage on the television, and one in particular caught Billy Mitchell's eye. Her name was Autumn.
It was then Billy decided what to name his only daughter, but few people would come to know Autumn Mitchell Barnes by her given name. Most folks knew her by her nickname, Sissy, a perfect fit for someone who was the lone sister to four sports-loving boys.
Even more people came to know Sissy as the wife of one of the area's best high school coaches, Westside's Gerald Barnes. Sissy Barnes, herself a teacher with two college degrees, thrived in this role. She hollered at umpires and referees, delivered food to her husband's players and was sometimes so nervous during games she would yank up grass from the ground around the area where she was sitting.
Slowed and weakened for nearly five years by a stroke after doctors removed a benign brain tumor, Barnes died late Saturday night at the age of 52. A funeral Mass is today at 3:30 p.m. at St. Mary's on the Hill Catholic Church.
"She's just been a special person," Gerald Barnes said Monday at his wife's visitation, which started early and ran late because of the number of people who clustered in a line that wound around the funeral home. Every parking spot was filled shortly after 6 p.m., and some people waited more than 90 minutes to speak with the family.
"She was the No. 1 coach's wife -- she loved all the kids as if they were her own," said Uzoma Egekeze. Barnes helped her son, Obi, obtain a football scholarship to the University of Maryland.
Gerald Barnes, a successful football and baseball coach at Westside who has won more baseball games than any man in Georgia's history, often would charge straight from coaching to visit his wife, who was watched during the day by caretaker Diane Davis. He usually greeted her with the same message: "Hey, girlfriend; you're so beautiful."
When Sissy wasn't in the hospital, Gerald would wheel her hospital bed into their room at home and jump awake at the tiniest of sounds.
"I've never seen a man do more for anybody," said Linda Belle, Gerald Barnes' sister. " ... Nobody could watch her like Gerald watched her."