I wrote most of this several years ago, but I liked it so much that I wanted to share it with you.
John Kerry: I was a visitor in one of the rooms in the building where a meeting was being held in Los Angeles in 2000. Sen. Kerry also was in the room. I attempted to strike up a conversation with him by telling him I was from Sam Nunn’s hometown of Perry. Kerry had served with Nunn in the United States Senate for many years. Actually, his arrogant response was more like a non-conversation than a conversation. Guess he didn’t like my Southern accent. I vividly remembered the encounter and repeated my recollection many times when Kerry was a presidential candidate. Incidentally, I have said often: “In politics, incompetence will defeat arrogance every time.”
Mickey Mantle: Janice and I were at the Polo Park over in Greene County several years ago. My all-time favorite Major League Baseball player, Mickey Mantle, was also there, and I had a thrilling opportunity to visit with him. Remembering 1956 and Mantle’s winning baseball’s triple crown -- .353 batting average, 52 home runs and 130 runs batted in, I said to him: “Champ, 1956 was really a good year for you, wasn’t it? What I remember was how you could drag that bunt and move down to first base.” Almost child-like, he responded: “Do you mean that you can really remember that?” Mantle was the exact opposite of Kerry. He had lots to be proud of but was very humble.
Herman Talmadge: We were quail hunting down on Mell Tolleson’s place in south Houston County, when I asked Sen. Talmadge: “Who was your favorite president that you served with?” This longtime Democratic governor and senator’s response surprised me: “Eisenhower. The world was at peace. We had prosperity. And Eisenhower operated on the premise that if it wasn’t broke, don’t fix it.” Pretty generous compliment from a Democrat about a Republican, I’d say.
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Edgar (Yellowlegs) Campbell: Billy Bledsoe, Hilt Gray, Seabie Hickson and I were fishing out of Cedar Keys, Florida with this legendary guide when I asked: “Yellow, do you ever take people out who know absolutely nothing about fishing?” Yellow replied: “Yeah, y’all.”
Jimmy Carter: I served my first two years (1973 and 1974) in the state Legislature during Carter’s last two years as governor. During the closing days of the 1974 legislative session, I went into Gov. Carter’s office, and during the course of our conversation asked him: “What are you going to do when your term is up?” Carter replied: “Run for president.” To which I foolishly responded: “Of what?” This is a true account.
Aunt Lillian Maddox: I was visiting at Grandma and Papa’s house in rural Washington County. I was probably about 10 years old. My Aunt Lillian (Daddy’s sister) also was there. I got miffed about something and threatened to run away. Aunt Lillian’s response: “Good. Go on.” I did run away -- down the dirt road for about a quarter of a mile and for about 30 minutes. God bless Aunt Lillian. I loved her. I think of her often.
George Steinbrenner: I was at the White House in the presidential receiving line. Steinbrenner and a friend of his were behind me. I had a brief, pleasant conversation with him. As I turned away, I heard Steinbrenner say to his friend: “I like those boys from the South, they still say ‘yes, sir and no, sir.’” Yes, sir, Mr. Steinbrenner, that’s right.
Billy Bledsoe: No. 1 “Larry, you’re all right, the world’s all wrong!” No. 2: Every time Billy and I fished together and I caught a fish he said, “There must be a million of ‘em out there.” Like Aunt Lillian, I loved Billy.
Muhammad Ali: I was with him at least four times, all after Parkinson’s disease had started taking its toll. Still, every time I saw him, his eyes sparkled and he had a wide and inviting smile, as he took a boxer’s stance as if he were ready to spar with me. These were the best non-conversation conversations I ever had.
Denmark Groover Jr.: Denny and I were talking about a fellow House member who had made a fiery speech criticizing one of our colleagues. I said to Denny, “Well, at least he later went to him and apologized.” Denny responded, “Larry, a private apology for a public wrong is no apology at all.” Amen, Brother Denny.
These are just 10 that quickly came to mind. I’ll share others in the future whether as part of a column or one devoted just to conversations I remember.
Larry Walker is a practicing attorney in Perry. He served 32 years in the Georgia General Assembly and presently serves on the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.