WINONA, Miss. — In another lifetime, I was for 10 years editor of the Winona Times, a newspaper in central Mississippi.
It was on the cusp of the Ward and June Cleaver era. Nobody bothered to lock houses. Or cars (more often than not keys were simply left in the ignition; I figured anyone who'd swipe my Mercury Meteor with 150,000-plus miles on it would be extremely desperate or insane). Our young son and his pals roamed the town on their bicycles and we never worried for their safety; everyone knew them and looked out for them.
As in most towns, there were a few people who were movers and shakers, who squeezed twice as many hours from a day as everyone else, who managed to get three times as much accomplished.
"Responsibility gravitates to the man who can shoulder it," an old adage goes. Another: "If you want something done, give it to a busy man."
George Harris, proprietor of Circle H Ranch, a spread on the south end of town, was one of those people. He chaired fund drives, spearheaded community projects, served his church in numerous capacities, was active in school affairs. His fingers were in all the pies. He got things done.
Sandwiched amongst the multitudinous pro bono efforts, he managed to find time to run a farm that produced some of the country's top-notch Herefords.
The story goes that George was so gung-ho on a career as a cattleman that, upon graduation from Mississippi State University (in only three years), his father offered a choice of a new car or a fine Hereford. George took the Hereford. And became cattleman extraordinaire.
Buyers from far and wide came to Winona for his annual sales — gala happenings, with much food and camaraderie, and a lot of money changing hands for animals that were groomed as meticulously as the well-heeled cattlemen and their wives who'd arrived in private planes and luxury cars. George wandered about, chomping an unlit cigar, smiling broadly, making sure every last detail was taken care of, that everyone was having a good time.
Thirty years ago, I moved away. Winona and Ward and June Cleaver are now a wistful memory of kinder, gentler, more innocent times. But George just kept on keeping on.
More often than not, people don't get tributes until the preacher's hovering over their casket. On a recent Sunday, George got praise while he could enjoy it, surrounded by family, friends, and members of the community he's spent a lifetime serving.
The occasion was a reception and program to honor his tenure as a member and chairman of the board of trustees of Tyler Holmes Memorial Hospital. He's retiring from the board after 51 years — the longest anyone has ever served on a hospital board in the entire state of Mississippi.
A lot of nice things were said, not just about his efforts on behalf of the hospital, but in recognition of the myriad of things he's done for his community over a lifetime.
To which I add: Thanks, George, for exemplifying public service at its best.