The Distinguished Gentleman from Decatur County

Published 7:19 pm Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Have you ever met someone and felt that, even though the length of your relationship with them was short, you had known them for a long time? I felt that way the first time I met The Distinguished Gentleman from Decatur County. Plus, if I ever wrote him a letter, I would address it to the Honorable.

There are many distinguished and honorable gentlemen and ladies in Decatur County, but not many to whom the appellations of distinguished and honorable are part and parcel of the actual name. I’m talking about Jack Brinkley, son of the Bettstown community, near Faceville in Decatur County.

For eight terms, Jack Brinkley served as the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 3rd District. As such, there were many times when he would be at work in the House of Representatives and, as he approached “the well of the House,” he would be recognized as “the distinguished gentleman from Georgia.”

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The “well of the House” that was part of his workplace for 16 years was a long way from the well where he drew water as a boy. Experiences in Washington, D.C., can be quite intoxicating. It might lead some to forget the mud of Rogers Pond that squished between a young boy’s toes, but that’s not the case with Jack.

His life and work has taken him on quite a journey. His public school days were spent in Faceville and Attapulgus.  He attended college at Young Harris in north Georgia. As a member of the United States Air Force, he was a pilot and, after that, received a law degree from the University of Georgia.

It was during his practice of law in Columbus that he made the decision to run for public office and won. After apprenticing in the State legislature for a term, he succeeded Bo Callaway in 1967 in the House of Representatives and never suffered electoral defeat. He retired in 1982 and returned to his Columbus law office.

I have come to know Jack Brinkley as a friend because my wife, Donna Sue, served the Faceville area as a pastor for the United Methodist churches in that community. He met her at a Faceville school reunion—Jack never misses those, the Good Lord willing—and I met him a few years after. I felt like I had known him for a long time.

In addition to meeting Jack at various times, I have also had the privilege of getting to know his lovely wife, Sally. Donna Sue officiated at their wedding last year at the historic Hopewell church in that area of Decatur County where Jack grew up. When all is said and done with this life of mine, I will look back and say that it’s the meeting of interesting people, like Jack Brinkley, that has held the most meaning.

Jack was on my mind many weeks ago as our Congress was fussing and fighting during the wrangling associated with the Health Care Reform bill. I knew I would never get to speak to my representative except through his impersonal offices and emails. So I wondered what it might be like working in Washington.

Many years have passed since Jack was a member of Congress, but being an elected representative is to be a part of a very exclusive club. As a political junkie, I wanted to know what he thought about all of the vitriol that had accompanied the process of the passage of the bill.

First of all, he thought that the subject of health care reform had taken up way too much time. Other areas of need had suffered.

“The basic appropriations bills should be attended to first rather than having to lump them all together at the end of the year in a continuing resolution,” he said.

In addition, he had another word about the bill. I don’t know if he was being facetious, but it had to do with its length. He felt more than 2,000 pages was ludicrous.

“I wouldn’t vote for it if it is longer than three pages. Sally, who I would categorize as Republican, said two pages would be her limit, since Moses needed only two tablets.” He then reminded me that a relief portrait of Moses is above the House Gallery, as one of the great law givers of all history, directly in front of the Speaker of the House.

I wonder if Nancy Pelosi ever lets “Ol’ Moses” bother her.

Jack mentioned Sally as a Republican. I asked him about his party. “I’m a conservative and a Democrat in the true meaning of demos kratia. Since I don’t know Latin, I had to ask what that meant.

It means “the people rule.” Jack considered himself a populist; that is one who represented the common person, not the elite.

Another thing I like about Jack is that he always gives credit to others. He mentioned another Bainbridge politician, Maston O’Neal. O’Neal, he says, gave him very good advice about remembering who you are, where you are from, and who sent you.

“Maston O’Neal told me that a congressman could serve as long as he wanted to if he would answer his mail.” In other words, be true to those who sent you before you are beholden to a political party. Good advice then and now.

In seeing Jack in public, I can see how he was elected. It wasn’t money that bought his office. He decries the amount of money that it takes to win today. He says, “if a man or woman will lay his or her foundation during their formative years, in church, in PTA, Civic clubs, and professionally, it need not take all that much money.”

He continues to think that America has a positive future but doesn’t believe that future is guaranteed. We need to be careful at this time. Here are a few statements Jack gave to various questions.

“This nation was built on the work ethic. A burgeoning national debt imperils the foundations of our country. Free enterprise and a strong national defense have always served us well. Public officials always should be good stewards of the public trust, particularly with money, and charity begins at home.”

The percentage of people who trust in our governmental institutions is at an all-time low. We lack confidence in the people who sit in the offices. I mentioned the mud of Rogers Pond and how it had squished between the toes of Jack Brinkley. Another Decatur County “Jack” felt that it was important to have a little of that mud between the toes.

Jack Wingate, a boyhood friend, had said this about Jack Brinkley, “that mud between the toes of one serving in Congress makes me feel a bit more confident in that institution.” I haven’t seen his feet, but I believe that mud is still there. And that’s one of the best things about Jack.