A heart­felt re­mem­brance of Zell Miller

The Standard Journal - - COMMENTARY - Guest Colum­nist You can reach Dick Yar­brough at dick@dick­yarbrough. com; at P.O. Box 725373, At­lanta, Ga. 31139 or on Face­book at www.face­book.com/dick­yarb. By Dick Yar­brough

An un­al­ter­able dead­line does not al­low me to com­ment on cer­tain events as quickly as I would like. Also, it is my pol­icy to avoid writ­ing about what ev­ery­one else hap­pens to be writ­ing about at the mo­ment. Oth­er­wise, I be­come just an­other voice cry­ing in the wilder­ness, in­dis­tin­guish­able from all the oth­ers.

Hav­ing said that, per­mit me to tell you about my re­la­tion­ship with Zell Miller, know­ing I am late in do­ing so and that you have no doubt heard or read the rem­i­nis­cences of a lot of peo­ple this past week about this re­mark­able man who died March 23 at the age of 86.

I had only a few con­tacts with Miller while he was lieu­tenant gover­nor. It was af­ter he be­came gover­nor and af­ter I joined the At­lanta Com­mit­tee for the Olympic Games that I got to know him up-close-and-per­sonal. And, boy, did I ever.

When At­lanta was se­lected to host the Cen­ten­nial Games in 1996, it was with the as­sur­ance that there would be no tax dol­lars spent on the con­struc­tion of the venues and other de­tails “in­side the fence.” But it did not mean we would not need gov­ern­ment sup­port “out­side the fence,” such as se­cu­rity, traf­fic man­age­ment, per­mit­ting and var­i­ous other things too nu­mer­ous to men­tion.

Some­how, the pub­lic mantra be­came “we don’t need the gov­ern­ment’s help.” Gov. Miller knew we did and was plan­ning on help­ing us, but he was get­ting more and more ir­ri­tated at hear­ing that stated pub­licly.

I had joined the or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee with re­spon­si­bil­i­ties for me­dia re­la­tions, but it was de­cided that gov­ern­ment re­la­tions would be added to my port­fo­lio.

Fast for­ward to a Satur­day af­ter­noon at San­ford Sta­dium in Athens. We were in­vited to sit in the pres­i­dent’s box at a UGA foot­ball game. I was told Gov. Miller was on the front row and I was to sit be­side him. I was also told that the gover­nor was “de­lighted” that I was go­ing to take over man­age­ment of the gov­ern­ment re­la­tions func­tion.

Suit­ably puffed up, I sat down be­side him and was pre­par­ing to tell him all the won­der­ful things I was plan­ning to do when he in­ter­rupted me to tell me all the things we had been do­ing that were not so won­der­ful.

I didn’t see much of the game that day. I was too busy say­ing, “yes sir” as I got my hide scalded by an ob­vi­ously frus­trated gover­nor who had been wait­ing to let off steam. I have had a few hide-scald­ings over my ca­reer, but there is noth­ing quite like a Zell Miller scald­ing.

I quickly dis­cov­ered that once he had his say, that was it. No grudges. No re­crim­i­na­tions. Just don’t make the same mis­take twice. I made sure we didn’t.

As we got closer to the open­ing cer­e­monies, the gover­nor called me one day and asked me to check on some­thing for him but as­sured me he didn’t want me to do any­thing. He just needed some in­for­ma­tion. It seems that the Olympic torch was not com­ing through Young Har­ris. His sis­ter had called him to ask what kind of gover­nor he was if he couldn’t get the torch to pass through his hometown. He just won­dered what he should tell his sis­ter.

I told Gov. Miller I never made a com­mit­ment with­out hav­ing all the facts but in this case, he could call his sis­ter and tell her the torch would in­deed be com­ing through Young Har­ris. I then called the peo­ple or­ga­niz­ing the route and was told the area was too moun­tain­ous and would take too long. Af­ter sug­gest­ing they might not be around to see the Olympic torch ar­rive in At­lanta, they sud­denly dis­cov­ered they could in­deed run the torch through Young Har­ris. To say the gover­nor was pleased would be an un­der­state­ment. No­body wants to be fussed at by their sis­ter, not even a gover­nor.

Af­ter that rocky start on a Satur­day af­ter­noon in Athens, we man­aged to end our Olympic re­la­tion­ship on a high note. He later ap­pointed me to the State Ethics Com­mis­sion and I saw him a num­ber of times at func­tions around the state. One of the last times I spoke to Miller, I told him Ge­or­gia is a bet­ter place be­cause of him. He seemed re­ally pleased to hear that, es­pe­cially com­ing from a guy that got the Olympic torch to come through his hometown. And es­pe­cially be­cause it hap­pens to be the truth.

Dick Yar­brough

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