I got a note from a grammar school classmate recently citing his memory of my being picked up on the lawn of our elementary school, dear old Bellingrath, by a helicopter. It was 1954 and Daddy was running for governor of the Great State of Alabama in a crowded field of candidates. There were no Republicans to speak of in Alabama at that time, so the Democratic Primary winner was the de facto winner of the Governor’s mansion.
Part of the program was travelling to small towns throughout Alabama, gathering a crowd at a VFW hall or on a town square and giving a speech. Presenting an intact, typical American family was essential…hence the helicopter trips. There wasn’t a lot of difference between the candidates from what I can tell from reading old newspaper accounts. All were staunch segregationists, and all were promising things they probably couldn’t deliver. Daddy campaigned as a veteran and a man of integrity, with several years of experience in State Government. He promised to eliminate corruption in State government. People probably remember the helicopter more than what he had to say.
At that time, I was eight years old, and I had no idea what a Governor did although I knew the present Governor on a first name basis. He was Gordon to me, and sometimes took us for a boat ride at the lake and offered us the use of his beach house. I remember visiting the mansion a few times and being entranced by two things…a beautiful blue tile bathroom and an impressive gun collection that included a gun not as big as a matchbox that was said to shoot straight pins and was used for suicides. I knew the gun collection was Gordon’s personal one, but I wanted that beautiful blue bathroom for my own after his daughter graciously showed me around.
Daddy was never elected Governor of Alabama, although he ran twice. I didn’t love those campaigns. I was slightly mortified that Daddy was an also ran in such a public manner, but I did love those helicopter rides. It never occurred to me to be frightened, I was with my Daddy and the pilot, a handsome fellow named Joe Suttle, had me smitten even at age eight.
I never told Daddy how proud I was of his ambition, which was even more admirable because of his very humble beginnings as the son of a poverty ridden coal mining family who often didn't have enough to eat. Someone must have seen something in him at an early age, though, because he had the determination and courage to work his way through college and to have an exemplary career as a bomber pilot in the Marines while stationed in the Phillipines. I did realize that I was more like him than I ever imagined once I was an adult, and appreciated the lively discussions we shared on current events and financial matters.
I hope cyberspace is available in heaven, and that Daddy knows how proud I am to be his daughter today.