March 22, 2023

Four friends and a fireside chat


            You can’t buy what we savored.

            No way.

            The March winds were straight out of Iceland. When you stepped inside, your teeth—upper and lower—were still tap-dancing on each other.


But our host had the solution.

            Striking a match, Larry Walker said, “I’ve had these logs ready for two months.” Our foursome backed up on the hearth. One story triggered another, and then we moved away to find comfortable seats.

I am always amazed how casual conversations and storytelling can reveal “it’s a small world after all.” My three friends are from Houston (pronounced “House-ton”) County—Perry and Warner Robins. I was the outsider, but here’s how we connected.          

Larry and I go back to the 1980s. When another Houston Countian, Gov. Sonny Perdue, appointed us to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents, Larry and I bonded quickly. Together, we’ve hunted, fished, traveled, been a two-man book club and tried—on multiple occasions—to solve the “world’s problems” ever since. Our values and philosophies are almost identical. Most times, we could complete each other’s sentences.

            Larry likes to assemble friends. When we are in Atlanta, I can count on him to orchestrate a troupe of buddies. After 32 years in the House of Representatives, Larry knows where to go for good food and fellowship. Saturday night, the retired attorney gathered us in his and Janice’s den—by the fire—followed by dinner in gussied-up and thriving downtown Perry. Engaged in the fireside chat were Sam Nunn, Danny Carpenter, Larry and me.

            March Madness was raging on the muted TV. Larry and Danny prodded Sam to recount the 1956 basketball state championship game—Perry vs. Valley Point. Any student of Georgia politics knows that when Sam left Georgia’s House of Representatives in 1972 to become a United States senator, Larry ran for Sam’s Atlanta seat. In fact, Larry sat in Sam’s very same chamber chair for 16 terms.

            But what you might not know is Sam was an all-state guard twice for the Perry Panthers. In his self-effacing way, our friend recounted the come-from-behind victory over Valley Point’s hotshots. Sam described himself as “short and slow,” but the records attest that he owned the boards on rebounds. The highlight of the 67-year flashback was Sam’s replay of Coach “Fessor” Staples reverse-psychology halftime talk. Hollywood’s Gene Hackman couldn’t have done better in Hoosiers. Valley Point didn’t have a chance. Fessor’s Panthers stormed back. The future U.S. senator poured in 27 points toward the victory.

            I just sat back and soaked it up.

In James Harper’s Cherry Street Lane upstairs office—in 1971—is where I met the future senator. Earlier, Sam had talked to Dr. Lanier Harrell at the Georgia Press Association convention on Jekyll Island. (Doc was the co-founder of the Wayne County Press.) Sam asked Doc to be his campaign manager in our part of the state. Doc recommended James. Fifty-two years later, Sam still has a special place in his heart for James and Jesup.

            Danny Carpenter is a fan of Jesup, too. Danny was a Dooley’s Dawg in the Kendall Keith era. A career-ending injury kept Danny on UGA’s sideline, but he got to know Paul McPipkin and his twin brothers, Jim and Joe. And when I mentioned Marcus Waters, Danny smiled. Marcus was our 1965 team’s quarterback. Before becoming Houston County’s school superintendent, Danny had coached in Warner Robins with Marcus. Both have long since retired.

            As if he was a conductor, Larry orchestrated the evening.

Oh, sure.

With Sam Nunn among us, we could have tackled some of the world’s problems.

But we did something even better.

As four friends, we sat by the fire and enjoyed each other’s company.

            Oh, no.

            You can’t buy what we savored.