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Loran - Smith

Speaker Ralston
By Loran Smith
By Loran Smith


On the drive up to Blue Ridge a couple of Sundays ago for the funeral of House Speaker David Ralston, there was time for reflection on the life and career of a man who had considerable power in his grasp for 13 years but was not prone to wield it in anger.

There were tough times and challenges along the way. You can’t serve in his role and be exempt from confrontation and challenge. He never backed down when he was moved to take a hardline stance. He, from all accounts with which I am familiar, preferred quiet diplomacy in carrying out his duties as Georgia’s 73rd Speaker of the House.

While I never was a member of the House, I knew of his reputation from those who were seated in our state’s legislature. He had a reputation for fairness. He was known for reaching across the aisle. He knew that good government was important to all Georgians, not just his party.

Keith Ingram, Arkansas House of Representatives from West Memphis, Ark., had this to say about him: “David knew how to govern…a big difference from “Flavor of the Month Club” in getting elected. He surrounded himself with outstanding leaders. What’s best for Georgia is what drove him.”

I got to know the Speaker because he was a passionate Georgia football fan. He enjoyed coming to football practice on occasion. He would come by my office and pick up a media guide and ask for a scouting report on the team; then spend the rest of the afternoon observing practice. He had a thorough knowledge of the players and coaching staff. He never painted his face; he never stormed the hedges following a signature victory, but he had a deep and abiding love for UGA.

A man with gentlemanly and measured emotions, he was disappointed when things didn’t go well for the Bulldogs, but he never was moved to join a campaign to fire or harass the coach. “Is there anything I can do to help?” was his stance. He was never the second guesser when a play failed continued from page

in a critical situation. He was never outspoken when disappointment prevailed. His love for his alma mater came from the heart. He had the same emotions in his position as the Speaker. He loved his state and wanted the best for all its citizens.

When the Bulldogs played on the road, he often was there. When he was not traveling to out-of-town game sites, he connected with the games via television and radio. He became a fan of Larry Munson. When Larry passed away, he saw to it that the House remembered the popular announcer and his family with an official tribute.

While he was born and raised in the mountains in our northern sector, he enjoyed traveling to all counties in the state and knew the state’s history as well as anybody.

He had a strong faith. As I weaved my way up over the mountain, I enjoyed the last teardrops of color here and there. I was taken by the sheer beauty of the Southern Appalachians to which he swooned all his life. In the solitude of the drive, I was moved to offer a prayer of thanks for this environment which meant so much to him.

While the mountains of North Georgia do not cause you to become awestruck when you compare them with the Rockies or the Alps or some other highly regarded mountain chain whose majesty overwhelms, there is a beauty that resonates and a simplicity that touches the heart and soul.

Mountain folk are kindhearted, enterprising and can make do with the best. He was often the beneficiary of good neighbor hospitality; a sack of silver queen corn, fruits and vegetables, homemade jams and jellies and gospel music on Sundays, sung by humble people who would get your ox out of the ditch.

As the eulogizers, which included former Governor Nathan Deal noted, there was a humility about the former speaker that set him apart. It didn’t matter the tribute that came his way, he preferred to be known as a country lawyer.

In mid-fall, I happened to be in Blue Ridge with friends and called him, hoping he might be up for lunch. He didn’t answer the phone but soon called back, saying he just didn’t feel up to it. He had gone through a bout with COVID. His voice was raspy, and he sounded downcast. I didn’t think about this as an indication that his health might be declining.

I thought about his pleasant and engaging mood which was entrenched in his DNA. As he hung up the phone he whispered, in a tired voice, “Sure am proud of the Dawgs.”

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