It’s hard to believe that 2015 is just a few short weeks from giving way to another new year, isn’t it? This year has really flown by, and I can’t help but think the phrase, “The days are long, but the years are short,” really sums up how we are living our lives these days. I wish I knew who said it originally, but it certainly describes the life I lead right now, which is full of kids’ activities, busy work schedules and too few times to focus on the things that really are most important.
For me, the Thanksgiving holiday is always a welcome respite from this self-imposed overcommitment. It is an intentional moment to break away and focus attention on the many blessings we all enjoy as citizens of Tennessee. And they are so numerous. Natural beauty. Temperate climate. Educational opportunities. Tremendous quality of life. A healthy economy. Friendly people. Music and culture. I could list so many attributes that make our state wonderful. Whether you live in Memphis or Mountain City or anyplace in between, we can all appreciate that we live in a very special place.
Of course, your electric co-op is one of the many reasons your community is such a great place to live, work and raise a family. But the people who work there don’t ask for a lot of recognition. And in today’s world, that’s really refreshing.
Specifically, I’m thinking about John Spence, a lineman at Gibson Electric Membership Corporation who literally risks his life climbing utility poles and touching live electric lines — all so you can enjoy uninterrupted power. Last year, John became the “face” of a campaign to raise awareness about taking action to influence a policy decision the federal government was considering. An unassuming fellow, when Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association staff asked if we could use his image, he readily consented. I don’t think he expected to grace a billboard on one of the nation’s busiest stretches of Interstate highway, be plastered on tens of thousands of postcards, headline a website or serve in the ceremonial opening of the Tennessee State Fair. By all accounts, though, he took the publicity in stride. John just wants to do his job and help others.
I’m thinking of Tammy Dixon, who performs so many different functions in her job at Tri-County Electric that no business card could hold enough words for a suitable title. Living in Trousdale County, one of Tennessee’s smallest, she understands the beauty and simplicity of life in rural Tennessee. Even though her duties require her to crisscross eight counties in both Tennessee and Kentucky, Tammy also finds the time to share her example and help fellow co-op leaders from across the state build strength through increased grassroots political activism. And I can’t recall a single time that I’ve been with Tammy when she didn’t have a smile on her face.
I’m thinking of Robert McCarty. Robert changed the lives of thousands of young people through his job at Volunteer Energy Cooperative in Decatur, and I’m pretty sure he loved every second of it. In addition to working with the press, Robert would visit schools to talk about the cooperative. And his obvious passion was in guiding students to Nashville for the Youth Leadership Summit and to D.C. for the weeklong Washington Youth Tour.
It was on a bus to D.C. for the Youth Tour, somewhere in rural Virginia, that I saw for myself how much he loved being part of these students’ lives. I had been required to step in at the last minute as director of the trip due to an illness to a member of our staff. As a student was acting, well, like you would expect an immature 16-year-old to act, I became frustrated that he wasn’t listening to my “encouragement” to stop his behavior. Robert put his hand on my shoulder, gave me the world’s biggest smile, and simply said, “Don’t you love kids?”
Always positive, always happy and never seeking to be the center of attention, Robert always had a way of making you feel good about yourself. Even as he was fighting cancer, Robert just wanted to make things better for others. Sadly, he lost his battle this year at the young age of 54. But the gift he gave to those thousands of teenagers he influenced, the gift of himself, will live on. And I think he is smiling about that.
I wish I had three or four more pages to share more stories of some of the unsung heroes who work for you each and every day. But since I don’t, let me share some encouragement for you. It’s not just the natural beauty and quality of life in Tennessee for which we should be thankful. No matter where you find yourself in the days to come — in the workplace, at your church, at the PTA meeting, at the mailbox with your neighbor — you are surrounded by people like John Spence, Tammy Dixon or Robert McCarty. Maybe they are bagging your groceries, working the midnight shift in a patrol car or teaching your grandchildren. But I guarantee they are there, and your life is better because of them.