A good many of you enjoyed the George Wallace story I shared with you a few weeks ago. Allow me to reminisce and share two more funny Wallace era stories.
I became acquainted with Governor Wallace when I was a young Page in the legislature.
I was elected to the legislature in 1982. Ironically, my district was comprised of my home county of Pike and also the portion of Barbour County that was Wallace’s home, including Clayton and Clio.
Gov. Wallace thought that was the most remarkable story that he had first met me as a 12-year-old Page and now 20 years later I was his representative.
He would often ask me to come down to his office and he would reminisce and tell me stories. He would always begin with the remembrance of my having been a “Page boy” when we first met. He had aged prematurely and was confined to a wheelchair due to having been shot running for president. Therefore, on our visits he would tell me the same stories over and over.
Well, one day I was visiting, and he told me the same stories. He then stopped and got a faraway nostalgic look on his face and looked at me intently and asked, “Steve, how old are you now?” I said, “Governor, I am 32 years old. I am grown and your representative,” He replied, “Huh. I guess I’ve been governor all your life.” He had indeed been governor most of the 20 years between my 12th and 32nd birthdays. My reply was, “Yes sir. I guess you will be governor all my life.”
I will share another story that I remember well with you.
Since I was Gov. Wallace’s Representative, he had made me a Floor Leader. As I mentioned earlier, he had known me since I was 12 years old and a page in the Legislature during his first term as Governor. My relationship gave me access to him, so one Fall day I ambled down to the Governor’s office. I walked into the office and the secretary whisked me back to his office pretty quickly. They said he would love to visit with me as he was not having a good day with his health and would like to reminisce with me about his younger days and first term. It would cheer him up.
Well, he seemed to be in good spirits when I went in, and he had his ever-present cigar in the corner of his mouth. Wallace’s health had deteriorated badly from the effects of the bullet wounds he had endured, and his hearing was really bad because he had been assigned to work around airplanes during World War II. My mission that day was to get $10,000 out of his Discretionary Fund for the Pike Pioneer Museum in my district. He controlled all of the extra pork money we appropriated, so we had to see the Governor for our pet project money. I knew we had put money into the tourism budget for projects like my museum. After listening to his story about politics and earlier days, I got down to business.
He led in by asking, “Steve, what did you want today?” I had to shout so Wallace could hear and began by selling the fact that my Pioneer Museum was located on a well-traveled four lane highway which was a corridor and travel route for northerners traveling to the beaches for their winter escape, and that they would stop at our museum and spend tourist money in Alabama. Therefore, $10,000 of tourism funds for my museum was a wise stewardship of Alabama taxpayer money.
Wallace still seemed like he did not hear me well, so I almost shouted that we were catching the snowbirds as they traveled north or south. I had just heard the term snowbird and was loudly and proudly using it. Well, Wallace had not heard the term, but he heard me and said, “Steve, what kinds of birds are y’all catching down in Pike County?” I knew he was confused so I dropped my snowbird terminology and said, “Governor, we have a lot of Yankees that come through Pike County and we want to stop them at our museum and get them to spend tourist dollars.” He looked even more puzzled and looked at me aghast and said, “Steve, what in the world are y’all doing to the Yankees down there in Pike County?”
The poor fellow thought I was asking for money to set up a speed trap of some sort for unsuspecting Yankees traveling through Alabama. He finally gave me the money for the museum, but I still think he was a little concerned about how it was going to be spent.
See you next week.
— Steve Flowers is Alabama’s leading political columnist. His weekly column appears in over 60 Alabama newspapers. He served 16 years in the Alabama legislature.