I first met Nathan Deal when I was covering the legislature for WALB-TV in Albany. He was a freshman state senator and was already garnering a strong reputation under the Gold Dome.
He spoke with a distinctive voice and, unlike some who served in the legislature, was articulate and knowledgeable.
Our paths would not cross again until a few years later when I moved to Gainesville. Still in the state Senate, he would soon move up to be president pro-tempore, the highest-ranking senator.
In 1992, he decided to run for Congress. I decided to run for the state House of Representatives. He won. I came in second in a runoff.
Both of our mothers were living at the time and campaigned for their sons. When I lost, my mother offered some advice. “You need to get associated with that Mr. Deal,” she said. About 17 years later, I did.
In the early days of his campaign for governor, I traveled around the state with him. Some folks I knew would ask me about him. I told them if he were not running for governor, I would run him for neighbor.
For eight years, this quiet man with a leadership style that endeared him to persons of both political parties has been Georgia’s neighbor-in-chief. I have been honored to call him my friend and my boss.
The clock is winding down on the final week of the administration of Gov. Nathan Deal. In some ways, the eight years has gone by in a flash.
His wife, Sandra, has been his partner in his venture as governor. She has read books to children at 1,000 schools in every school district in every county in Georgia.
Like her husband, she has a folksy style that Georgians have embraced.
“The people of Georgia may like me,” I have heard the governor say. “But they love Sandra.”
I was her travelling aide for much of the campaign. We drove in parades, went to festivals that recognized everything from peanuts to grits. When we were driving down the road in the car, we often played a Bill Gaither gospel CD and would find our vocal parts and sing along to the old songs.
I’m looking forward to the administration of Governor-elect Brian Kemp. I’ve known him for several years and know he wants to build on the work of Gov. Deal. When I was a cub reporter at the Capitol, his father-in-law, Rep. Bob Argo, helped me break a story about the new student center at the University of Georgia. That was 40 years ago.
But it will be hard not to occasionally flashback to the days of Nathan Deal as a candidate and then governor. The stories are many. Some are happy ones and others are sad. The past decade has given me a treasure trove of wonderful images of a kind man and woman who dedicated themselves to our state.
I hope he enjoys many years of well-deserved retirement. I also hope that the Deals will record their historic journey for others to read in the future.
Thank you for letting me come along for part of that ride.
Harris Blackwood is director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety and a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.