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Some debts are too big to be paid


I had forgotten that I made a speech — specifically, any kind of farewell speech when I left the state Legislature in 2004. If someone had asked me (which didn’t happen) I would have said something like this: “Oh, I made a few comments, and I’m sure I thanked my House colleagues and perhaps others, but I don’t remember anything much about it.”

Anyhow, in this context, during the last week of April, a box was brought to my office with a few books, several photographs, originals of letters and lots of magazine and newspaper clippings. Most of them were about Sam Nunn or me. The box and contents were delivered by Charles Harrison and he told me that his sister-in-law, Florence Harrison, wanted me to have it, the box and its contents, and that his brother, Willis Harrison, had agreed. Mrs. Harrison had saved the contents of this box for years.

Florence Harrison was Sam Nunn’s high school English teacher (he graduated from Perry High School in 1956) and was mine, (I graduated from PHS in 1960). Florence died in May of 2014, and I handled her estate. Her husband, Willis, died in December 2016, and I handled his. But, back to the box and a newspaper clipping I don’t ever remember seeing.

The clipping, half of a newspaper page, was titled: “Text from State Rep. Larry Walker’s farewell speech,” and apparently was from Macon’s “The Telegraph,” judging from an ad on the back of the page which had my speech.

A half page! I couldn’t believe it. Saved, along with many other things, by my homeroom and twelfth grade teacher, Florence Harrison. Amazing.

Then I read it. And what struck me as never before was how much I owed Mrs. Harrison, and my first grade teacher, Miss Frances Couey, and my sixth grade teacher, Jean Bledsoe. I will never be able to pay what I owe. That’s what teachers do. They give so much and it can never be repaid by the recipients.

A few excerpts from my speech.

I quoted Thomas Jefferson who said: “If due participation of office is a matter of right, how are vacancies to be obtained? Those by death are few; by resignation, none.” Or, as Jefferson is usually quoted: “Few die, and none resign.” In other words, if the politician continues to serve long enough, he will either die or eventually be defeated. None quit. But, I did.

I talked about love undeserved and quoted from my favorite hymn, “My Tribute” (and I like it by Andraé Crouch) by reciting these words: “How can I say thanks for the things you have done for me. Things so undeserved, yet you gave to prove your love for me. The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude…”

I talked of legislative colleagues, including Terry Coleman, Tom Buck, Tom Murphy, Lynn Westmoreland, Bill Lee and Calvin Smyre, and perhaps 100 or so more. Democrats and Republicans. Friends. Good friends. Lobbyists, clerks, governors, secretaries, my shoe shine man, the press, and three especially close political friends, Allan Stalvey, Clark Fain and Connell Stafford. I also talked of my wonderful secretary of 20 years, Dianna Lynn.

And, then I closed with what Robert E. Lee closed with when he gave his farewell address to the Army of Northern Virginia: “With an unceasing admiration of your constancy and devotion to your country, and a grateful remembrance of your kind and generous consideration of myself, I bid you an affectionate farewell.” And so, I bid my political colleagues and my friends an affectionate farewell which I truly meant — the affectionate part.

Frances Couey taught me to read in the first grade, Jeanne Bledsoe encouraged my story-telling in the sixth, and Florence Harrison taught me to love to read in the twelfth. I call Miss Couey and Mrs. Harrison my bookend teachers. And, neither the speech I made in 2004 nor this column would have ever happened without Mrs. Harrison. She helped to make me what I was when I wrote the speech in the spring of 2004 and helped make me what I am today. I think Sam Nunn would say the same things about her. In fact, I know he would.

And, by the way, was it Macon’s Randall Savage, Pulitzer Prize winner, that got this letter printed? And, who was Randall’s teacher(s) that made such a difference in his life?

This article was originally printed in the May/June 2017 edition of “James” magazine and is re-printed here with the permission of “James.”