Vivid memories of a lifetime ago. Right out of Lavonia, by way of UGA, I appreciated and loved my first “real ” job in Social Services at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta while my new husband was attending Georgia Tech. And then, BOOM, I got a surprise phone call !
Governor Ernest Vandiver called me himself while I was at my desk at the hospital to offer me a position as Capitol guide , and, boy, was my supervisor impressed ! And what a learning curve that put me on. Politics at that level was something this small-town girl had never been exposed to.
The good experiences were plentiful.
…..From my desk in the rotunda I had the opportunity to see the state of Georgia walk through the front doors, bringing issues to be settled, accolades to be presented, discussions to be held, and influence to be shared.
…..I experienced the uplifting realization that those representing our state , at that time, in that place, were , for the most part , sincere, honest, and focused. I was young and naive, but I knew good work when I saw it, and that’s what I recognized. If there were corruption, it was quickly and surely ” nipped in the bud “.
…..I saw at Christmas time ( and other special occasions ) gifts being brought in to be given to the Governor and/or his staff, and , just as quickly, sent back out. A prior administration had been blatantly corrupt, and Ernest Vandiver campaigned on honesty and integrity. And so it was. I was impressed………………
…..I worked directly for Ben Fortson, Secretary of State, and what a fine gentleman he was. He was confined to a wheel chair, and his ever-present aide, Cicero Lucas , a native of Washington, Georgia, was always with him, pushing his chair and providing anything that was needed. Quite the duo.
…..My special mentor was Mary Beazley, the Governor’s receptionist and right-hand “man “. She held my hand, taught me the ropes , and kept me straight as much as possible . I remain eternally grateful.
…..And the Governor himself, who was a long-time family friend , never was far away. He was there when and if I needed him. And did I ever need him on one overwhelming and devastating occasion !!!!!
And so , I would be remiss if I did not mention the worst experience I had as Capitol guide. It still haunts me ’til this day although I thank God that it is, hopefully, history, and will never happen again.
A large part of my job was leading groups through the Capitol, sharing historical and current facts. These were civic groups, church groups, professional groups, and school groups , among others. And the school groups were, by far, the majority.
This was 1961, and schools in the South were, in most cases , segregated. The Civil Rights movement was just gaining momentum. Sit-ins, rioting, violence, arrests were all every day events. It was a sad and scary time in our state.
I scheduled a group of second-graders by phone for a morning tour during the legislative session. Nothing any different from a hundred others———–or so I thought !
The group arrived, a lovely young black teacher and her class of seven-year-olds. Nothing any different from a hundred others ———or so I thought !
As I was walking toward the doors to greet them, a high-ranking and powerful politician from South Georgia , (duly elected by the voters of Georgia), burst out of his office, running toward the doors, shouting, ” You cannot enter ! ” Red-headed, charismatic, quick-tempered , he was in charge………………and using words unfit for print .
Now picture me : twenty-one year-old ” hired hand ” , attempting to react . But react I did ! I said, ” Sir, excuse me , but they have an appointment for an educational tour and this is their Capitol, too. ”
Do you think he retreated ? He glared at me and yelled again , ” They are not entering this building , PERIOD , and , you , Young Lady , need to return to your desk !!!!!! ”
I tried one more time, but the teacher, who had more poise and common sense than either the “screamer” or me, said very quietly, ” Children, we need to go back to school.”
I was appalled. I was crushed. I was heart-broken.
I will never forget……..and I still wonder, some 60 years later, ” What did those little innocent children think ?”
The upside is this : I went straight to the Governor’s office and cried . He gave me a hug, told me that this would never happen again as long as he was Governor, and that I needed to explain the crisis to Mr. Fortson .
I went straight to Mr. Fortson, who reiterated everything Governor Vandiver had said and patted me on the back for standing up.
Two fine gentlemen, whose hearts were in the right place and whose power and influence could address crises , helped this young woman understand that life is indeed a balance.; that one bad deed does not identify a status; that each day brings its own challenges; and that there’s always, ALWAYS, a shoulder to cry on.
Did I mention LEARNING CURVE ?????
This story hurts my heart! For the little children, the teacher, and for you. Thank goodness we lived to teach all children, regardless of color!
Bad times, for sure. Just thankful that Ernest and Mr. Fortson had an entirely different view. Two fine gentlemen !
Your story has a Winder connection. Cicero Lucas married Joan Farmer’s sister, Barbara Mitchem.
WOW ! Did not know that. I’ll post in Memories and see if Rodney will let it stay. I’ll make that connection. Thank you.
Governor Vandiver was an outstanding governor. My mother had a friend that owned a restaurant at Holiday Marina on Lake Lanier. We had spent the night on Saturday night so mother’s friend asked me if I would like to help waitress in the restaurant and I gladly accepted. This too was in 1961 and I was 15 years old. The first customer I waited on ordered Silver Dollar Pancakes. I took the order and when I took it to be filled she asked me if I knew who that was I was waiting on? I did not and she told me it was Governor Vandiver!! I served him his order and when he left he left me a $5.00 tip which was an exorbitant amount back then!! A story that I will never forget!!
What a lovely story ! Thank you for sharing.
What a story to remember. Two men who represented Georgia with Grace. Thank you for sharing
Yes. They were truly statesmen, as opposed to simply politicians. Thank you for your comment.
You’ve always been strong and have always known right from wrong. I’ve known you for or about 36 years, and you have cleared my mind many times when I ran into “gray” areas. Proud to know this once young person who wasn’t afraid to state her mind on this issue that was so troubling for many.
Methinks you give me too much credit, but it’s a lovely compliment that I will cherish. Thank you for being my friend.
Another interesting story Diane, and your reaction to that incident is not a surprise to me.
As long as I have known you, which is longer than I can remember, you have been a strong lady who stands firmly on her principles and has no tolerance for inhumane behavior of any kind.
Your stories often trigger long forgotten memories from our past and this one did it again with the mention of Cicero Lukas from Washington, Georgia.
Byron may remember some of this, but Cicero was an outstanding high school football player at Washington High School, and when combined with such an unusual name, one tends to never forget such an individual. When Lavonia High’s football team played Washington High’s football team in the Fall of 1952, Cicero was a scrawny little guy, probably about 135-140 pounds who played as a linebacker (no joke) on the Washington Team. His appearance was about as threatening as a “teddy bear”—wrong, wrong, wrong!!! He was, however, fast, elusive, aggressive, and impossible to block. He aggressively tackled our running backs all over the field, some of whom were large guys and tough runners. We were not able to keep him out of a play. Coach Jack Smith commented after the game that Cicero was one of the most amazing young football prospects that he had ever observed.
In the Fall of 1953 Washington High traveled to Lavonia to play us in our next to last game of the season. Cicero had sprouted like a weed and was then about 5′ 10″ tall and had gained weight to about 165 pounds. He now played as a running back and had lost none of his speed and agility. Well, that game was a disaster for us. Cicero ran all over our defense and I lost count of how many touchdowns he scored. It was the most embarrassing performance that I can remember as a football player. Thank goodness, our team redeemed that disgrace by beating a great Hartwell Team in our final game.
All of that said to quote an old adage–“Never underestimate an opponent”.
While I was a student at Georgia Tech, I read a report where Cicero Lukas, at 5′ 11″ and 185 pounds was a guard (no joke again) on the UGA Football Team. Even during those years, a 185 pound college level guard was an anomaly. It is testimony to the versatility and athletic talent that Cicero had. I have often wondered what had become of him and your story prompted a little research on my part. Apparently he is still alive at 85 years old and is living in Statham, Georgia, near Athens.
If you Google his name you will find several narratives of information about him, including a glowing memorial written by Larry Walker, an attorney from South Georgia and a prominate retired member of the Georgia Legislature.
WOW ! Just WOW ! What a memory with all the details. Wish Cicero would see this.
I always love hearing your responses to my blogs. That really is the upside of my meanderings——–that and emptying my mind of those random thoughts that pop up from time to time.
I hope you are storing your thoughts somewhere. You have much to keep and share.
Wishing you, Marie, and all your off-spring a very happy and healthy new year !