In the 1950s, there was no Zell Miller Highway to zip folks from the Atlanta area to the mountains. There were two reasons for that: Zell had not been elected to anything and was not yet worthy of the designation and, secondly, nice paved four-lane highways were just starting to appear in the big city. It was 1956 before we started building the interstate highway system.
In those days, the mountains were a faraway place and folks lived all up and down the hollers around places like Blairsville, Young Harris and Hiawassee. It was a good day's drive to go to the mountains and tourism wasn't much of an industry in the hills.
City folks associated folks who spoke with a mountain twang to be somewhat uncivilized.
But in that era, Young Harris College produced a few graduates who would leave an indelible mark on this state.
One of them was Miller, who would serve as mayor of Young Harris and then a stint in the state Senate. A decade later, he would begin a 16-year run as lieutenant governor before becoming one of our state's most influential governors. Just as historians were getting ready to begin writing his epitaph, the death of Sen. Paul Coverdell resulted in Miller being asked to serve his state and nation in the U.S. Senate.
The widow's son from the mountains served us well and it all began at Young Harris.
A friend of his was a fellow from Young Harris who grew up in nearby Blairsville named Ed Jenkins.
Jenkins was a conservative Democrat who served 16 years in Congress. He held true to his values and fought to protect the textile business that was an important part of his district. Those sewing plants that made children's wear, women's dresses and men's slacks are gone from the hill country where they once provided a decent wage to hard working folks. Jenkins fought hard to preserve an industry.
Jenkins died on New Years Day. Folks who have been around a while remember him fondly as a mountain boy who did well. He was my congressman for a time, but was also my friend.
There were others in that group. Jack Brinkley, who grew up in Faceville, a little place on the Florida border, came all the way to the mountains to get an education at Young Harris. He became friends with the likes of Miller and Jenkins and would serve the Columbus area for 16 years in Congress.
There were others, like George Berry, who served the city of Atlanta as it built a truly international airport that was completed in 1980. That airport is the economic engine that drives this state and has for more than 30 years.
While he didn't attend Young Harris, Bert Lance's daddy was the college president and Bert was boyhood friends with fellows like Ed and Zell. He served our state as the first commissioner of the renamed Department of Transportation and was active in banking circles for many years. He remains a trustee of the college.
You might not have heard of all of them, but they each played a role on the stage of our state. Young Harris College honed their abilities as skillful debaters and sent them out to do great things.
They did, and we should be grateful.
Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.