Austin “Skip” Caldwell, Jr., 72, died peacefully at his home in Bay Minette, Alabama, on Sept. 5, 2023. Skip was born in 1951 in Demopolis, Alabama, and enjoyed a simple childhood in the idyllic small town: spending warm-weather weekends on the river with his family, playing endless games of kick-the-can with all the neighborhood kids, and running along the canal that ran behind their house all the way to the river and “rock climbing” on the limestone cliffs with his younger brother, Jack.
He was an introvert, but people seemed drawn to his genuine and unassuming nature. He excelled at baseball and football, was active in Key Club, and was even voted president of his senior class (Demopolis High School, class of 1969).
Skip followed in his parents’ footsteps and headed to Auburn University after high school, and despite not taking his studies too seriously — he was more interested in playing intramural football with his Beta Theta Pi fraternity brothers or driving their van across the country from Alabama to California to surf in the Pacific Ocean — he eventually earned his degree in Political Science.
An entrepreneur and outside-the-box thinker at heart, Skip lived out his “beach bum” dreams on the Gulf Coast throughout his 20s, exploring a few different business pursuits — building boats and then owning a plant shop, for example — before eventually moving back to his roots in Demopolis, where he and his first wife, Carol, raised their two daughters, Andrea and Erin.
His entrepreneurial spirit led him to take over the family radio business, which grew over time and transitioned out of radios and into computers. Skip brought internet service to Demopolis in the mid-1990s, when the technology was still in its infancy, and his business Network IT served as the sole internet service provider in the area for a number of years. He notably partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to bring public-use computers and internet to the Demopolis Public Library in 1997. He also provided computer networking services to many businesses in the area, including the Hale County School District, and carried on as network administrator for the school system even after selling the family business. He continued to work in technology after moving to Bay Minette in 2007, and his curiosity and interest in technology stayed with him well into retirement.
His love for the water, the coast and sailing endured throughout his life, and he kept a sailboat in Pensacola, Florida, for several years in his 50s. His first date with his second wife, Linda, was on the sailboat; a test of sorts to see if she had what it takes. While she successfully navigated the boat through the channel, she grounded it shortly after that. Despite this — or maybe because of the mutual resilience they undoubtedly brought to the situation — he’d found his match. They enjoyed nearly 16 years of marriage together.
The last few years of his life were largely spent at home, with his wife Linda and dog Bailey, tending his bamboo, teaching his grandchildren the art and science of building a campfire with ample airflow, and being a vocal advocate for the effectiveness of homemade biochar. (Look it up.)
Throughout his life, he marched to the beat of his own drum, wasn’t afraid to ask challenging questions or pose contrary ideas and saw opportunity and potential that others often overlooked. He was slow to anger, but was fiercely loyal and protective of the ones he loved.
His daughters will cherish the memories of his deliberate and strategic approach to coaching their Dixie Youth softball team, including being the only team in the league at the time to use hand signals; how he often cut the sleeves off of otherwise perfectly good long-sleeve shirts because it was more efficient than trying to keep them rolled up; and of watching Auburn football together … as long as no one talked during the game. (That’s what commercials are for.) Beneath his quiet demeanor, he was passionate and tender, and he was so proud of his children and grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Austin, and Jane Caldwell. He is survived by his wife, Linda Caldwell; brother, Jack Caldwell; daughter, Andrea Johnson (Jesse); daughter, Erin Garrod (John); stepdaughter, Shannon Wilson (Kevin); stepson, Aubrey Lunsford (Michelle); and 11 grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be held at the Fellowship Hall at the First United Methodist Church in Demopolis, Alabama, on Saturday, September 16 at 11:00 a.m. There will be a private family interment at the Alabama State Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Spanish Fort, Alabama, at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in Skip’s memory to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America.