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Column: David Ralston left his mark on Georgia history
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

If you didn’t know David Ralston, his deep, almost gruff voice might make you think he was a rough, tough guy.

While he was not one to push around, he was a good fellow and I was honored to have known him.

David Ralston, who served for 13 years as speaker of the Georgia House, died Nov. 16 at the age of 68. I used to think that was old, but he was a man who was very up to date with pop culture and current events.

When he graduated from Young Harris College and North Georgia College and State University, he took a job as a reporter here at The Times.

He used to joke with me that he prepared the place for me when I went to work here. Ralston went on from here to law school at the University of Georgia and practiced in his hometown of Blue Ridge.

I covered him on two fronts, one when he had a falling out with former Speaker Glenn Richardson, who relegated him and a few other House members to the back bench. I reported on the Capitol for several of our newspapers, and was there when Richardson resigned and Ralston was elected speaker.

He was the longest actively-serving speaker. The late Speaker Tom Murphy was defeated for another term in office and had been the longest-serving speaker in the nation. Murphy succeeded George L. Smith of Swainsboro, who died suddenly in 1973.

I must tell a Murphy story. I went to the Capitol with my dad during a special session in 1975. I was about 15 at the time. I had a cassette recorder and a microphone. I was given media credentials and was, I believe, the youngest reporter in the Capitol press corps at the time.

One day, I went in and waited my turn to see Murphy. He was intimidating. He knew I was young, and I went around to his side of the desk, where I could place my microphone. I was so scared that my hands were literally shaking.

“Son,” Murphy said. “You ain’t got a thing to be scared of. I’m just an old granddaddy and you just ask your questions.”

From that day on, I got along well with Murphy.

I also got along well with Ralston. He was a peacemaker and often could find common ground with representatives from the other party.

When there were difficult situations, he would meet with some Democrat leaders and would try to find things they could agree upon.

He was cut out of the same cloth as Nathan Deal, who also was peacemaker and bridge builder. I’m not suggesting that you sell out your values, but if you dig down far enough, you can find those agreeable situations.

In our state, we have had politicians who left an indelible mark in our state’s history, and we are better people because of them.

Then, there are others that you would like to buy a bus ticket to send them back home.

I hope that those who follow Ralston are in the former group.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns publish weekly.