It’s early Sunday morning, July 14, and I’m sitting here thinking about the last two days. What did it all mean? Was it all real? Was it as significant and profound as I think it was? I pick it up again. I read it, again, as I’m sure I will do, again and again, for as long as I live, and am able to read and comprehend.
“Purt Nigh Gone, The Old Mountain Ways” by Zell Miller. And there it is on the title page written in the front of the book in his firm, precise, ‘young-man hand’: “To Larry Walker, A dear, dear friend who I admire tremendously, Love, Zell Miller 7/13/13.”
But, let me start over, and at the beginning, and with the needed confession that it didn’t turn-out like I thought it would.
Probably, the idea for the trip started with Dink. He is by trade a newspaper man, intensely interested in everything that is happening, and it sounds like Dink to me. Actually, Dink and I had been talking about it for several months, and I can’t recall, with certainty, when it first came up, but I’ll bet the initial impetus came from him and his words were something like, “Larry, why don’t you, Jim Minter and I…” And, it went from there with talk, and not much else, for several months.
I liked the idea: Go to Calhoun and visit Bert Lance, then over to Summerville to see Bobby Lee Cook and the next day a visit with Zell and Shirley Miller. I also liked being seat-belted in the vehicle a couple of days with Dink NeSmith (an amazing man) and Jim Minter (Dink says he was “our Google” before there was Google).
Jim got in touch with Bert and his wife, LaBelle, I contacted Bobby Lee and Zell, and the trip was on: Bert and LaBelle in Calhoun on Friday morning, Bobby Lee at Summerville on Friday afternoon and Zell and Shirley, who live in Young Harris, on Saturday morning. We would stay with Clark and Lois Fain at their beautiful home in Young Harris on Friday night. Lots of riding, but more time for me to be with two great and interesting people.
The first, and really only problem, before the trip started: Jim had diverticulitis, but was receiving treatment in hopes of being able to make the trip, but had to cancel at the last minute. So, it would be just Dink and me. The conversation was not to be reduced by one-third, Dink and I would just increase ours one-sixth each!
We met in Atlanta, where I left my pick-up, after transferring Lane peaches for our hosts to Dink’s pick-up. We were off, and headed for a visit with a great Georgian, Bert Lance, and his wife, LaBelle Lance. You will remember that Bert was, at various times, Georgia’s Department of Transportation Commissioner, Director, Office of Management and Budget when Jimmy Carter was President and a very creditable 1974 Candidate for Governor of Georgia (he would have made a fine Governor: my view).
We had a good visit in Calhoun with Bert, LaBelle and their friend, Dick Inman, and then Dink and I had lunch at Dub’s Barbeque (very good) with Dick as our companion and gracious host. Because of Bert’s medical condition, he and LaBelle were not able to join us.
After lunch, we telephoned Jim telling him in detail of our visit, and with my opinion that “it all went really well, and would have been even better if you could have been with us.”
Now, we were headed to Summerville to meet with a legend – one of America’s foremost trial lawyers, reputedly the inspiration for the television show and character, Matlock, and one of the most interesting people I have ever been around. We were not to be disappointed.
Bobby Lee, now 86 years old, was waiting to greet us when we arrived at his law office at 3:00 p.m. He was resplendent in his seersucker suit, strong in voice, firm in handshake and to Dink’s question of whether he was still practicing law, responded, “Hell yes, I’m still taking cases.”
We met in Bobby Lee’s round library room with fourteen foot-ceiling filled with books (Dink counted shelves and the number of books on a shelf and estimated 4,800 books in the room.) Bobby Lee said that he was frequently asked by prospective clients as to whether he has read all of these books and he usually answered, “most of them.”
Bobby Lee was bright, quick, interesting and totally in command. We talked of cases he had tried (in over 40 states and many foreign countries), lawyers he admired and did not admire, politicians he has known and many other things. Truly, it was one of the most interesting times I have ever spent. Dink took lots of pictures.
When we left, I felt like I had been in the presence of aristocracy. I know I had been with a living legend. Bobby Lee gave both of us his business card. It didn’t read “Attorney”, but “Lawyer”. There was no email address on the card. What a man!
As we headed towards Young Harris (about a 2½ hour trip), we telephoned Jim and gave him a report: “It was better than we ever imagined it could be.”
Actually, we didn’t make it to Young Harris before we stopped at Mike’s Seafood in Blairsville. We were met by our friend, Clark Fain, who had recommended the restaurant. The three of us enjoyed shrimp (fried and steamed) plus “sides” before going on to Young Harris where we were met by Clark’s wife, Lois, and Lois’ aunt, Janet.
Lois and Clark’s home is beautiful (Dink called it “Southern Living pretty”) and comfortable. It wasn’t long before we were all in bed. For Dink and me, it had been a long and exciting day. I knew that “tomorrow” would be, too.
The next morning, we were to meet Governor Miller (he prefers “Governor” to “Senator” although he was both Governor of Georgia and a United States Senator from Georgia) and First Lady Shirley Miller (a former banker and newspaper owner, as well as an outstanding First Lady of Georgia). I didn’t know about Dink and Clark, but I was excited about our visit – I think they were, too.
At 10:00 a.m., we were at the Miller home and they were waiting for us. What a homey, warm and inviting place – the Miller home, which, as I understand it, was largely built from stones that Zell’s mother hand-carried from a creek near the home site. Amazing. Equally amazing were the number of books, memorabilia (baseball and political in particular) and family pictures in their home. I loved all of it, and I believe Clark and Dink did, too.
We spent two hours visiting and talking. It reminded me of old times, and in particular how my Walker grandparents used to visit with family and friends on their front porch on dirt Sparta-Davisboro Road in rural (really rural) Washington County.
Zell was sharp. Shirley was alert and gracious. We discussed politics (naturally), people that we knew or know, past events, celebrities (Zell and Shirley’s friends, Mickey Mantle and George Jones come to mind) and many other things – two hours worth of talking. All of it was, in a word, “wonderful”. And then it was time to go, although we were still in full-gear with the visiting. Still, I couldn’t help but to remember what Daddy used to say: “Short visits make long friends.”
One thing I want to add because I want this in the article. I told Zell, and I believe it to be true, that he was surely one of the top three Governors in Georgia’s modern history – say from Herman Talmadge until now. And, he may have had the most positive impact on Georgia of any Governor in Georgia’s history. Just think what the Hope Scholarship has done and the impact it has had on our State and its people. The one word that comes to mind to describe Zell is “superior.”
Then, like all things, it was over and it was time to go home. We said goodbye to Clark, then Dink and I headed south, pausing in our talking only long enough to telephone Jim Minter reporting of another astounding visit with two historic and great Georgians. I got back to Perry around 5:30 p.m.
Early in this article, I said that “things didn’t turn-out like I thought they would.” Let me explain. Dink and I thought we would visit these great Georgians, Bert, not in great shape, Bobby Lee, 86 years old, Zell, 81 years old and Shirley (age unknown and not to be revealed) and perhaps be a blessing to them. That’s not the way it was. They, all of them, blessed us much more than we did them. I think they made us better people because of the examples of their great and significant lives, and because we realize that while we were with them, we were in the presence of greatness. God Bless all of them as they have blessed so many.