Fitting for a legend

Published 3:45 pm Tuesday, July 21, 2009

He was laid to rest next to a massive peanut field, a blanket of green that stretched east and north from the cemetery.

On a hot, humid morning as I listened to the words about his life at the graveside service, I couldn’t help but think to myself that the breeze blowing the leaves of the peanut plants was the most fitting tribute of all.

I first met Lewis Carter Sr. some 40 years ago when my father decided to build a new peanut shelling plant. It was a leap of faith for my father who could have lived a comfortable life owning and operating one of the largest buying points and drying plants for peanuts in Alabama.

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My father had a dream that I only came to appreciate later in life. A dream to build a peanut shelling plant and to grow, shell and produce high quality seed peanuts for farmers in the Southeast. Lewis Carter put that dream on paper and more importantly, he helped that dream come alive.

That first shelling plant was installed at a cost of only $100,000. Slowly, over time, the plant added equipment and capacity helping fuel the growth of Beall Peanut Company. That growth is what brought me to Georgia when we purchased the Planter’s Products Company in Donalsonville.

Lewis Carter and his son were the only people I knew when I moved to here. Within a year, we were building the commercial shelling plant on West 2nd Street. It cost six times as much as the first shelling plant, but solidified the financial success of the company.

At only the age of 22 when we built the plant in Seminole County, I was always treated with respect by Lewis Carter, certainly more than a person my age deserved. I know now that the greatest part of his legacy is not the ground-breaking genius of his peanut equipment design, but rather his gentle human nature and love of his family and friends.

Twenty-five years after leaving the peanut business, I still received the strong handshake from Mr. Lewis that I received when I was 21 years old. He asked of my parents until my father died, and then always, without fail, he asked how my mother was doing.

He didn’t just build a company known around the world; he headed a family that he showered with his love and faithfulness. He led by quiet example, in his faith, his family and his friendships with people like my father and yes, even with me. Along the way, he helped build dreams and for that I will always be grateful.

Should be a standard

I was in the second grade when Walter Cronkite became the anchor of CBS News. I had my first child when he retired. It was his voice that I associate with most of the great events of my early life.

My brother and I laid on the linoleum floor in the den at Compass Lake listening to him describe the landing of the first man on the moon. My parents and grandparents were there as we shared in this great achievement while watching a grainy black and white television.

He was the voice that described to me the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the assassination of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. He was the voice that America trusted during a time when cynicism about our government first took root.

It is hard to imagine in this age of cable and satellite television, the Internet and 24-hour news coverage, that there once was a man that spoke of the events of the world and this entire nation listened. Today, that would be a power that would be hard to control. Yet, for 19 years, Walter Cronkite told the news without a personal agenda or editorial comment.

The next time we listen to a right wing or left wing commentator twist the news of the day to suit their own purposes, remember the time when one man could report the news and close with simple words of honesty and truth. “And that’s the way it is” should be the standard we demand of all those who give us the news, whether we agree with them or not.

Pay close attention

Finally, as American citizens we should pay real close attention to the work of our political leaders at this point in time. When is the last time you read a 1,000-page or more book in less than a month?

Imagine if that book was as complicated as trying to solve our health care system.

I believe that some changes must be made to ensure that Americans have access to health care regardless of their station in life. I also believe that the attempt by Congress to pass a health care bill of more than 1,000 pages before the August recess will result in the wholesale failure of businesses like mine.

Combine the cost of health care, minimum wage increases, and energy cap and trade proposals, and we have an impossible price tag for our economy to pay.

With policies that will stunt economic growth rather than stimulate it, we are facing difficult economic times indeed. Pay very close attention. Nothing debated in my lifetime has the chance to so dramatically change the way America does business.