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 ?????