Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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May 3, 2014

Good people on all sides unite with former Va. governor in Tazewell

— — Stephen Vincent Benet once wrote of Daniel Webster that he “was not president but he was the biggest man” and many over the past generation have made similar pronouncements about former Virginia Gov. Gerald Baliles.

Although the historical timeline did not work in his favor, Baliles, governor from 1986-1990, was truly intellectually capable of moving from the executive mansion to the White House.

My first sighting of a Virginia governor came at a political meeting including J. Lindsay Almond Jr. more than 50 years ago. Since then, I have seen and met them all. Over the past four decades through my association with the school system, many prominent citizens, and this newspaper, I have also met every U.S. president except Richard Nixon and Barack Obama, as well as all the West Virginia governors, all the U.S. Senators from both states over that time period, and many, many cabinet members.

Name dropping and bragging is not the point here — but when we down at Tazewell High School decided to try and host a first annual Model General Assembly banquet, as sponsor I persuaded my dynamic 10 members that we could not choose a more worthy keynote speaker than Baliles. He is much more modest than many of his caliber and one of those rare men who could have held his own in discussion with great Virginians of yesteryear including the Jeffersons, Madisons and others.

Our MGA, with co-sponsor Lori Moss, has learned much from the outstanding groups at Richlands and Graham. Lori is a Graham graduate. Both of those Tazewell County teams are loaded with stars and have been the models we used to re-build our club a year ago. Lori, in fact, has always been proud of the fact that at her 1987 Virginia Tech graduation, Gerald Baliles presented the commencement address.

When we started the discussion to secure a speaker for the banquet, there was only one name on my list. Gov. Baliles was it and I told him so. I wanted the students to hear a true statesman, a polished speaker and person of genuine character who has stood on stages around the state, nation, and world. My wife said, and I agree, that listening to him is like listening to the great historian David McCoullough.

Naturally, there are always key people behind the scenes who provide the platform for those who stand upon it. Enter Jennifer R. Boyd and Rose Marie Owen. Jennifer is an outstanding former student, a talented lady now working as legislative assistant for Virginia State Senator Phillip Puckett. She is a tireless worker. Jennifer made copies, phone calls, trips, wrote letters, sent correspondence, and did all the unsung heroic jobs that a major production requires at the local level.

Ms. Owen is Baliles assistant at the prestigious Miller Center in Charlottesville. She is a gracious and gifted lady with a keen eye for all things necessary in the political and social arena. Like Jennifer, she is also blessed with a good heart and sincerely wishes for all involved to have a positive experience. After what I am certain  was the initial shock of dealing with me, she wholeheartedly did all in her power to help make our effort a success. It was my great good fortune to entrust the details of this endeavor to Jennifer and Ms. Owen.

After the good man said he would do it, I am sure I did not sleep much for the next four weeks. With school preparation and lessons to do daily and all the other related chores to handle, there were precious few minutes to “take it easy.” One major concern was the absence of co-sponsor Mrs. Moss, out with a fractured leg. She is a wonderful teacher, beloved by the students, and wise in the ways of making plans for almost any project. It was very tough to attempt every day without being able to seek the wise counsel of Mrs. Moss. Many mistakes were made, of course, but there were wonderful people to correct most of them. Our principal David Bockes and assistant principal Cynthia Beavers provided support through all of this as we sincerely tried to put together a community and county outreach event.

The support from across Tazewell County was outstanding and heartwarming. I am encouraged to believe that we will begin to take more cooperative steps in unison, thanks to beginning the process with our children at the forefront. We can and must move forward together.

As Governor Baliles says, with transportation and education we can grow.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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