Words Of Thanks For Doing Thankless But Necessary Work

Last week’s Courier Herald column:

Pete and Betty Hearn were regulars in our family’s Fayetteville Georgia hardware store when I was growing up.  I don’t recall their main line of business, but one side operation they ran involved sharpening of saw blades for us and our customers. 

They kept their business affairs direct and simple.  It was amusing to hear someone in the store offer to put them on a house credit account, as most of our regulars operated.  Their answer was always the same, and always succinct.  “We pay cash”.

They were the type of people typical of rural Fayette county who had been born during or in the immediate aftermath of the Great Depression.  They were hard working, plain spoken, and without pretense. 

There was one topic, however, that they were willing to talk at length about.  They loved to talk about their grandkids.  Mrs. Betty was quite proud of being “Nanny”.

My Dad loved to talk about his kids – often right in front of us.  My sisters, each of whom worked the counter at our store at some point, were often in earshot of these conversations, as my Dad would brag on their/our school accomplishments. 

Mr. Pete and Mrs. Betty had at least one granddaughter that always seemed to be doing at least as much, maybe more.  I’m aware at times that my sisters began to take these conversations as some sort of competition.

Time moved on.  We sold the store.  Eventually I moved on from Fayette County, but where you grew up and the people you were around never really leave you.

A few years ago I was at an event with the Georgia House Republican caucus.  One of the new members, Representative Bonnie Rich of Gwinnett County introduced herself.  We began talking and eventually realized we knew each other from our high school days.  She had been friends of a good friend, and we had hung out several times when we were nearing graduation.

A bit more reminiscing about our three decades’ younger selves triggered a hardware store memory, and she brought up her grandparents who were likely our customers.  She started with the briefest of descriptions before I interrupted with “Pete and Betty Hearn!”.  This was not a connection either of us had made years earlier.

It turns out that the Hearn’s prognostications had been correct.  Bonnie had become a lawyer, wife, mother of two, and eventually, a State Representative.  She was then given the somewhat thankless task of being Chairman of the Reapportionment Committee. 

For those who still don’t understand the redistricting process and only view it as a partisan exercise, it’s not the job where friendships are made.  The media and minority party only see the surface, where the party in power uses the legally mandated process to their own advantage. 

What is not seen is that within the majority caucuses, the House and Senate reapportionment chairs have to attempt to herd cats while their own members are openly willing to stab each other in the front to preserve or advance their own political existence and ambitions. 

This is a multi-year process where no one ever seems to be happy, even when the maps become law.  Because everything is always subject to partisan lawsuits, she can now expect to be a defendant or witness in legal challenges for some time to come.

Still, her colleagues thought enough of her work to elect her Chairman of the Republican Caucus at the beginning of this election year.  While this is a coveted and usually competitive election, her colleagues nominated and elected her by acclimation.

A few months later, when qualifying began under new maps, another Republican House member who had previously announced that he would not seek re-election changed his mind.  Two incumbents were in one district.  Only one could return.  When the primary was over, voters determined it would not be Rich.

I had a bit of time over Thanksgiving to spend back in South Metro Atlanta, and had some discussions about those who have served our state in various capacities, completing thankless but necessary tasks.  Too many of them go unrecognized for the effort, and unthanked for the personal and professional costs for doing what must be done.

Being the “work horse” and not a show horse isn’t always the thing that resonates in partisan primaries.  It’s the kind of work ethic and results, however, that would have made Nanny proud.


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