These were my kind of statesmen? They didn’t believe in getting it now and paying for it later.
March 8, 2013
He was as solemn as I’ve ever seen him. My Uncle Mort, looking down the gun barrel at his 101st birthday, was pensive, his thoughts filled with yesterdays and the snows of many winters.
“Our country’s in a heap of trouble, nephew,” he began. “There’s plenty of blame to spread around, border to border, but I think I can pinpoint when our gradual demise began.”
Tears welling, he continued. “It started when folks abandoned lay-away plans.”
Mort thinks when the “we-want-it-now” craze won favor, lay-away plans crumbled. “Buying on credit – getting stuff now and paying later – became a way of life,” he moaned.
He says we now pile debts upon debts, “trying to keep up with the Joneses – just when we think we’ve caught them, they refinance.”
My uncle claims debt to be at the root of many problems—from “our house to the state house to the White House.”
Not many of Mort’s remarks end in question marks. This one did. “In your memory, who stands out as Texas’ all-time greatest Christian statesman?”
Without hesitation, I answered, “Congressman George Mahon (1900-1985). He served Texas’ 19th District for 44 years (1935-1979), was never defeated for public office, endeared himself to the masses and never lost the common touch. He was passionately ‘sold out’ to public service.”
I told him about several visits with the congressman during his twilight years and my remembrances of his sparkling eyes, deep faith and unwavering optimism. Even as dementia took a stronghold, he ended every visit with this reminder: “There is no hope for the world without the church and education. It has always been that way.”
“Congress must’ve been special with George Mahon and Kentucky’s Second District Congressman Bill Natcher up there,” Mort said.
Indeed, Natcher (1909-1994) and Mahon were cut from the same cloth. Both were revered conservatives and southern gentlemen. Both held law degrees, and both spent collegiate years at then-young educational institutions–now named Western Kentucky University and Hardin-Simmons University.
Both men were passionate about serving their people and always committed to doing the right thing.
Mike Stephens, longtime Natcher associate, recalls their mutual respect and their occasional breakfasts together. “They usually came down on the same sides of issues during their 26 years together in Congress,” he said.
Many Texans have rich remembrances of Mahon – including his careful budgeting of time that called for squat-thrust exercises while on elevators – few know little, if anything, about Kentucky’s late congressional leader. Natcher never missed a vote during his 40-year tenure — record likely to endure. His last vote – #18,401 – was cast from a hospital gurney a few days before his death in 1994.
His name is worth researching. You’ll find it refreshing and may draw additional Mahon/Natcher parallels.
Random facts include: Always the natty dresser, Natcher sometimes changed shirts three times daily…He dictated thoughts privately after each house session; the 58 volumes, an average of 400 pages each, are now bound and archived….He wrote weekly letters to his six grandchildren by hand, alternating recipients of original and carbon copies.
He never accepted a campaign contribution, personally financing every race, none of which exceeded $10,000. He never had a press secretary and never ran a political ad. Storms, graduation ceremonies, weddings and other momentous events never took precedence over casting house votes.
He invariably operated his office at costs substantially below allowances. He was authorized a staff of 18, but never employed more than five, thus returning big chunks of office funding.
Early on, a friend sent Natcher a $100 political contribution. He fretted over the gift, fearing that its return would be offensive.
Natcher decided to buy a couple of $50 Countess Mara ties for the would-be “donor.”
He mailed them and a note of thanks for the “contribution.”
Mahon and Natcher were essentially “book-ends.” They both served as Chair of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, both died at age 84, and both were committed to “pay as we go.”
Both had overflow crowds at their funerals. Names of both are on bridges, roads, buildings and schools.
We should “study up” on such Christian statesmen– reviewing their beliefs and lives of passionate service–and then try our best to model them.
Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Speaking inquiries/comments to:[email protected]. Phone: 817-447-3872. Twitter: @donnewbury. Web site: