William Milton (Sonny) Chafin, Jr. died peacefully at his home, surrounded by his loving family, in Apalachicola on Sunday, July 7, 2019 after suffering from dementia for eight years and a mini-stroke for two weeks. He quietly passed away just as his sweet neighbor, a local pastor and his wife, had walked over to pray for them. He was 78 years old.
He was truly a family man. He is survived by his wife, Sandra Baxley Chafin, who he dearly loved and who lovingly and patiently cared for him at home after his dementia diagnosis and even after his mini-stroke. He is also survived by his three daughters, who also thought the world of him, Mitzi Chafin Adkinson, Laura Chafin, and Sunnilee Chafin; his three grandchildren, by whom he was affectionately known as Grandnonnie, Charles Adkinson, Hannah Adkinson Maloney, and Lauralyn Eaton; three great-grandchildren, Asher William Adkinson, his namesake, Beckett Adkinson, and Victoria Adkinson; and two great-grandchildren on the way. He is also survived by much-loved extended family and friends and neighbors who were like family.
Sonny was born Sept. 9, 1940 in Port St. Joe to William Milton Chafin, Sr. and Frances Marler Chafin. He was little brother to Marietta Chafin Bricker. His parents preceded him in death.
Sonny grew up in the Florida Panhandle on the Gulf Coast and grew to love the bay, the water, boats of all sizes from john boats to yachts, and crabbing, scalloping, and fishing. You could find him in the water near his home virtually every day of his childhood. He truly enjoyed being in the outdoors and would often spend a week camped on Cape San Blas with friends, crabbing and scalloping in the bay during the day and fishing for flounder along the water’s edge at night. The cape was so undeveloped then that it was mostly wilderness.
His love for the water did not diminish as he grew into adulthood. His daughters would love to hear him tell how he when he was scalloping in St. Joe Bay once, maybe about 1980, and had wondered out alone in the bay about a mile from land, with only an inner-tube with a bucket in the middle to collect scallops tied to his waist. He heard a splash in the water, looked up and saw a shark headed straight toward him. He froze; he said he couldn’t move. He said it looked like the shark put on his brakes when it saw him. Thank goodness the shark then turned around and swam away. So Sonny just kept on scalloping. His daughters were awed by his bravery.
One incident got him in a lot of hot water with his dad. As a teenager, Sonny and his friends often camped on the peninsula. Sonny borrowed his dad’s boat, but the boat turned over out in the bay, and all his dad’s fishing equipment and motor were lost. This was just one of many similar boating incidents that would have made a lesser person become a “landlubber,” but not him.
His love for the water was also shown as Sonny served in the US Navy for 4½ years, aboard aircraft carriers, and made four Far East tours, which included Hawaii, the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Japan. His daughters and grandkids loved to hear him tell how he “swam with the sharks” in the middle of the Pacific Ocean while sailors stood ready on the aircraft carrier with rifles. When they began firing at the sharks, even Sonny, so unafraid of anything, decided he’d had enough swimming in the ocean and climbed back aboard the ship.
Sonny met his soulmate, Sandra Baxley Chafin, as kids at First Baptist Church in Port St. Joe, where they both were members. He was six years older than she was, and when she was in the ninth grade, a young lady named Barbara, who was in the 12 grade, took a home economics class with Sandra. Home economics was a graduation requirement and Barbara had moved to Port St. Joe from out of state. Barbara had been dating Sonny and wore his high school class ring and his football state championship charm on a necklace. Every day Sandra talked Barbara into letting her wear these during class, but only during class. Sandra begged Barbara to let her take them home over the weekend, but she never could talk Barbara into it. Years later, when Sandra and Sonny began dating, Sandra was awfully glad Barbara had given them back to Sonny after the couple had broken up. Sandra still wears them on a chain around her neck to this day.
Sonny was on leave in summer 1962, and Sandra had finished the 10th grade when he asked her to go on a date, but she knew that her mother would never allow her to date an older man, especially one still in the Navy, so she just said no. She didn’t even tell him the reason why. So during his last year overseas, Sandra convinced her grandmother to convince her mother to let her date him when he came back home in 1963. But Sonny, having been rebuffed with no explanation the year before, didn’t ask Sandra, a high school senior at this point, out again when he returned home. So Sandra invited Sonny to a social at church and he agreed to go.
Sandra worked at Smith’s Pharmacy in downtown Port St. Joe and Sonny would come in and sit at the soda fountain counter and drink coffee. There was an ice cream machine near the end of the counter where Sonny would sit. Her boss said no one had ever kept the ice cream machine that clean. He never knew she had ulterior motives of being near Sonny.
Sonny and Sandra had their first date on his 23rd birthday, Sept. 9, 1963. They dated during her senior year and he gave her an engagement ring on the night of her senior prom. They were married Dec. 19, 1964. He always took such good care of “all his girls,” and even in his last days, was only concerned for his family. They would have celebrated 55 years of marriage in December and you would have to look long and hard to find a greater love than what they shared.
Sonny received his bachelor of arts in history from Troy State in 1976 and enjoyed a 38-year career in papermaking, following in his father’s footsteps.
Sonny had a kind and compassionate heart, generous spirit, and quick wit. He loved to laugh and was always ready with a joke. He had an infectious smile and was patient and easygoing. He really was loved by everyone who knew him.
At the onset of his dementia he shared with his family that he wasn’t afraid to die because he knew that he was in right standing with God because he was trusting in Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross on his behalf.
There will be a graveside service at the Holly Hills Cemetery, at Old Niles Tramroad, in Port St. Joe, on Friday, July 12 at 11 a.m. EST. In lieu of flowers, please make donations in memory of Sonny Chafin to the First Baptist Church of Port St. Joe Building Committee, 528 Sixth Street, Port St. Joe FL 32456. He always loved this church and it was damaged during Hurricane Michael.