Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Guest Post: Murphy "a Great Friend to Georgia Women"

Melita Easters writes about Speaker Tom Murphy...

While I often did not always agree with him politically, I had great respect for Speaker Tom Murphy as a person, political master and someone who treated others with dignity and respect. He always protected choice for women. He allowed the ERA to have a fair hearing at a time when it was hugely unpopular in Georgia. He stood up for Atlanta when it counted. He gave African Americans respect when they joined a legislature not yet ready to welcome them. He could be condescending at times to women, but he allowed them to be heard when their numbers in the legislature were small. He gave women a voice, though he never forgot to remind them when he chose that it was at his pleasure. He reminded men of the same thing. He appointed women to chair committees – not the most powerful committees and they were never in the smoke filled rooms of the important appropriations debates or the conference committees on important legislation, but he opened a door.

He had the great most loyalty to Wiley, who ran the house post office and God only knew the fury of anyone who ever criticized Wiley. I think his long-time driver Butch would have walked thru hell for “The Speaker.” And, Butch was a mirror of “The Speaker’s” own civility – treating all with respect as stood somewhere close to the office door, not hovering, but always close enough if needed.

The rest of his loyal staff loved him dearly and I think one can always judge a person by how well respected they are by those who see them in moments both public and private. I remember being in the chamber when they had the memorial service for his wife and how he teared up at a hymn. I think few had seen him cry in public before -- though it was in his later years a debate tactic he used to his best advantage. I also remember some sort of high school rule change which would have adversely affected his daughter’s champion debate team – you would have thought it was the beginning of a new world war. He won by the way.

One of my most cherished photos of my daughter Christina was when she was just over a year old and I was an associate producer for the lawmakers on GPB. We had her at the Capitol for about three hours and he allowed the obligatory photo – she was just a wee bit bigger than his gavel. He had a great capacity to wield the gavel and Roberts Rules with gruff authority and then walk over to the waiting line of legislators and pose sweetly with every page who served, with the hometown legislator as bookend for the photo which would then be published in the hometown paper. His photo with young people must be in more homes than anyone in modern Georgia history.

The thing that Jim Galloway’s masterfully written obit for the AJC forgot is that Bill Heath did defeat “The Speaker” in his “own” district, but only because in reapportionment he had allowed “his” district to include a whole bunch of new subdivisions and people who did not know him. In some ways his generosity contributed to that defeat.

He was a legend and a great friend to Georgia women although his gruff exterior might sometimes have seemed otherwise. Never forget that after all, he was the father of three daughters.

Happy holidays,

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