His Friends

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL -

Melvin Thomas Steely was known for the many ac­co­lades he earned in his life. But to his fam­ily he was known as “Daddy” — along with brother, hus­band and grand­fa­ther.

Dur­ing Dr. Steely’s funeral in Jan­uary in Car­roll­ton, his fam­ily was joined by a host of friends and col­leagues from over the years, in­clud­ing former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gin­grich.

Steely, a well-liked and re­spected his­tory pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of West Ge­or­gia, died on Jan. 13 at the age of 79. His funeral was held at the Car­roll­ton First United Methodist Church on Jan. 16.

All the pews were full as Steely’s sis­ter, Elaine Mar­shall, de­liv­ered the eu­logy. She said not a lot of peo­ple knew about his an­tics grow­ing up, but his fam­ily did, and she put the crowd on no­tice that she was about to air a few of them.

There was the time a young Steely wanted to give his two child­hood cats a bath – in the wash­ing ma­chine. He also thought it was a good idea to dry them on the clothes line out­side.

“My grand­daddy hap­pened to be vis­it­ing with us that day, and he runs out to the yard scream­ing at Melvin, ‘get those cats down,’” Mar­shall said, adding: “Poor grand­daddy has to reach up and get those cats.

They were so trau­ma­tized they about clawed him to death. And Melvin said that was the first time he’s heard his grand­daddy say a bad word. What makes it worse is that my grand­daddy was a South­ern Bap­tist preacher.”

He was such a good brother, she said. They both started at what was then called West Ge­or­gia Col­lege to­gether; she as a stu­dent, he as a teacher.

When­ever she had a his­tory as­sign­ment, she would go over to his house and sit on his porch. He would tell her the story be­hind the his­tory lessons. The back­ground of the peo­ple, places and things that were go­ing in the les­son.

“He just ab­so­lutely made his­tory come alive for me and all of his stu­dents,” she said. “That’s why I re­gret not tak­ing one of his classes be­cause I knew he was a bril­liant, bril­liant teacher.”

Steely’s knowl­edge and teach­ing also in­flu­enced his el­dest grand­son, Pa­trick Camp­bell. Camp­bell stud­ied the­ol­ogy in col­lege be­cause of Steely’s in­flu­ence in his life. Camp­bell also sang a solo at his funeral.

His grand­fa­ther taught lo­cally at the col­lege, but he also headed up Bi­ble study and Sun­day school. One of the things he would speak with Camp­bell about is the­ol­ogy and the im­por­tance of be­ing a free thinker.

Camp­bell said Steely taught him to find the best ex­am­ples that you can in peo­ple, and mir­ror that in their own lives.

“To me, he’s a fa­ther­fig­ure, in more ways than one. He re­ally held our fam­ily to­gether. He was the glue that took care of ev­ery­one,” he said.

He was the kind of per­son that put love be­fore any­thing else in his life, Camp­bell said.

“We just knew him as Daddy. We knew he did all th­ese things. We knew he was im­por­tant and did all th­ese things. You know – he’s just Daddy,” his daugh­ter Bon­nie Vernon said.

His other daugh­ter, Karen Camp­bell, said to her his great­est ac­com­plish­ment was be­ing a fa­ther. She said he was such a strong, de­voted and un­con­di­tion­ally lov­ing fig­ure. To her, he’ll al­ways be “Daddy.”

Gin­grich, former U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive and Speaker of the House, first met Steely when he came to West Ge­or­gia Col­lege, and over the past 49 years be­came a good friend, ad­viser and, at times, a men­tor to Gin­grich.

Gin­grich flew to Car­roll­ton for the day to eu­lo­gize his old friend.

“We would travel to­gether day af­ter day in the (U.S. House) cam­paign. He knew so much about west Ge­or­gia. Whether it was Cedar­town, New­nan, he was just in­valu­able. He was a gen­uine com­pan­ion,” Gin­grich said.

Steely worked with Gin­grich on his cam­paigns and helped get him elected to the U.S. House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and then be­came an aide to Gin­grich for 13 years. Steely was cho­sen as Gin­grich’s bi­og­ra­pher and archive cu­ra­tor for UWG’s Ge­or­gia Po­lit­i­cal Her­itage Pro­gram, a col­lec­tion of recorded in­ter­views of many of the state’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, many of whom Steely in­ter­viewed him­self.

He said he be­came close friends with Steely be­cause Steely cared about oth­ers, was a good lis­tener — and they both had a mu­tual in­ter­est in pol­i­tics.

“He im­mersed him­self in be­ing my ad­viser. I think it’s pos­si­ble with­out Mel’s help, I would not have be­come a con­gress­man and I would not have be­come speaker. He was that big a dif­fer­ence,” Gin­grich said.

Former Univer­sity of West Ge­or­gia Pres­i­dent and pro­fes­sor Be­heruz Sethna ex­pressed his ad­mi­ra­tion and re­spect for Steely dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s ser­vice.

Sethna re­called a time he had to act as a “geek trans­la­tor” for Steely when he was hav­ing com­puter prob­lems. He came over to help Steely, and was able to get his email work­ing af­ter three months.

Sethna re­mem­bers ex­claim­ing that Steely had over 700 emails, to which Steely replied, not to worry about it; 500 of them were prob­a­bly from Sethna.

Dur­ing his eu­logy, Sethna also read emails UWG fac­ulty had sent af­ter hear­ing of Steely’s death.

Lec­turer San­dra Pol­lard said she re­mem­bered when she got her de­gree and didn’t know what to do af­ter­ward. She said Steely brought her back to the univer­sity and put her on the track that led her to later be­come a univer­sity in­struc­tor.

She said her life wouldn’t be the same with­out him.

Univer­sity pro­fes­sor Robert San­ders said he will al­ways re­mem­ber their con­ver­sa­tions be­cause, de­spite their dif­fer­ences, their dis­cus­sions were al­ways provoca­tive and fun.

Blynne Olivieri, head of Spe­cial Col­lec­tions at In­gram Li­brary, said Steely helped her visit her dy­ing fa­ther. She re­mem­bers one day where Steely came into her of­fice and asked her what was wrong. She told him about her fa­ther, and he of­fered to help man­age the archive so she could go visit him be­fore he died.

“You just don’t for­get that about a per­son,” she said.

His Ac­com­plish­ments

Over the course of his ca­reer, Steely re­ceived many awards and ac­com­plish­ments across the spec­trum of aca­demics and pol­i­tics.

Steely earned his Doc­tor­ate from Van­der­bilt Univer­sity and in 1964 be­gan teach­ing Mod­ern Euro­pean and Ger­man His­tory at West Ge­or­gia Col­lege.

He was the lo­cal and state pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Univer­sity Pro­fes­sors and also was a lob­by­ist for over 20 years for the Ge­or­gia Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Univer­sity Pro­fes­sors. He re­ceived the Sum­berg Award and the War­ren Akin IV Award while he was in­volved with the Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Univer­sity Pro­fes­sors.

The Sum­berg award is given to peo­ple who are ef­fec­tive at lob­by­ing higher ed­u­ca­tion is­sues and fur­ther­ing state lob­by­ing ef­forts. The Akin award is given to some­one who has done a spe­cial ser­vice to ed­u­ca­tion and the prin­ci­ple of aca­demic free­dom, ac­cord­ing to the as­so­ci­a­tion.

Steely was also the pres­i­dent for the South­east re­gion of The His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety, and was the direc­tor of The Ge­or­gia Po­lit­i­cal Her­itage Pro­gram that he founded in 1985.

“Mel did that to re­ally doc­u­ment the im­mense amount that Ge­or­gia politi­cians were re­ally con­tribut­ing to form our na­tion and to form a stronger state of Ge­or­gia,” Olivieri said of The Ge­or­gia Po­lit­i­cal Her­itage Pro­gram.

She said Steely’s po­lit­i­cal-in­sider knowl­edge helped draw out sto­ries and nu­ances in the oral his­tory in­ter­views that are part of the pro­gram. She said no one could repli­cate Steely when it came to con­duct­ing oral his­to­ries.

“Those in­ter­views help show the in­ter­sec­tions be­tween peo­ple and the is­sues and how sort of the sausage gets made in Ge­or­gia pol­i­tick­ing,” she said.

Note: This story was for­warded cour­tesy of the Car­rolton TimesGe­or­gian. We thank them for their ap­proval to share this story with our read­ers.

To me, he’s a fa­ther-fig­ure, in more ways than one. He re­ally held our fam­ily to­gether. He was the glue that took care of ev­ery­one

/ Spe­cial

Dr. Mel Steely was a well-liked and re­spected his­tory pro­fes­sor at Univer­sity of West Ge­or­gia. Steely died in Jan­uary in Car­roll­ton.

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