Weld for Birmingham learned this morning that former Alabama State Senator and Circuit Judge Mac Parson has died after a battle with cancer. Columnist Courtney Haden had already written this piece for this week’s issue.
I was going to send this the old-fashioned way, via the U.S. Postal Service, on account of I know you are fond of both creative anachronism and union labor, but I keep hearing the USPS wants to trim service in selected areas, and I don’t want to take a chance on yours being one of the selected areas.
Like a lot of your fellow men and women, you’re being inconvenienced by the cellular boondoggle known as cancer. This is one punk disorder. Not only is it tiresome, painful and expensive, it is decidedly anticlimactic. After all, you served in the Alabama Senate when George McMillan was lieutenant governor. You’ve suffered enough.
We likely first met at one of the old Birmingham Press Club Razzberry Awards functions, but our paths crossed significantly in 1992. Greg (Bass, for those eavesdropping) and I were doing a morning radio show, and we thought it would be fun to somehow get some on-the-scene reportage from the presidential conventions that summer.
Lacking anything resembling a news budget, we were obliged to rely on attendees. Greg was familiar with your expository style and vouched for you, and sure enough, that July our listeners were treated to your distinctive drollery from the streets of New York City, where, among other things, you introduced us to the guy who’d brought a mule to the convention. The ratings were phenomenal. Especially among quadrupeds.
Since then, wherever we’ve had the opportunity to hang out, I can safely say you were the smartest guy in that room. That’s a two-edged cutlass in Alabama politics. Considering the vagaries of your career, one could easily infer that intelligence is an impediment to advancement.
(An aside for the eavesdroppers: Mac Parsons brought another undesirable trait to Goat Hill, and that was honesty. Thus he antagonized almost as many Democrats as Republicans on issues like “pork” distribution. In the old days, there was a big pot of money set aside for politicians to dole out to the schools of their choice, to make them look like local heroes. In 1991 Mac, questioning the fairness of the practice, filed a lawsuit to curb it altogether, because he thought educators should have more of a say in how tax money is spent on schools. Did it work? Well, our legislature is still high-cholesterol, and Mac got gerrymandered out of the Senate in 1994.)
Then again, that intelligence came in handy when you decided you wanted to park your backside on a judicial bench. In some ways, you were more influential as a Jefferson County circuit judge than as an Alabama state senator.
Remember in 2001, when Roy Moore was grandstanding with the giant Ten Commandments rock he wanted to stick in the Supreme Court building? You made the salient point that admonitions of that sort would be better placed where they might do some good, and you demonstrated that by making your own Ten Commandments sign, driving over to the homicide-prone community of New Hill, near Lipscomb, and hammering it into the ground in a common area. “Very clever,” our mutual friend Kip Gordon called that action. Of course, there was another homicide reported the next day, so it may have been more clever than effectual.
Then I am mindful, with Kim Bryan’s memory assisting, of the time they found the pickle jar full of money at a Baptist church near Adger. That’s near the Donaldson Correctional Facility, which, I believe unbeknownst to the deacons, occasionally trained its tracking dogs on the grounds of said church. As the story goes, the trusty prisoners were all being rounded up according to plan, when the dogs unearthed the jar full of dough.
The prison officials claimed the cash, since their dogs had found it, but so did the church, since the puppies were on their property. It fell to you to render a Solomonic judgment, but during the hearings, you went Solomon one better. While a correctional official was testifying, you pulled rank to question the witness yourself, on an altogether different topic; namely, whether or not the prison was fouling the waters of the Black Warrior River with substandard sewage treatment.
He was under oath. What could he say but the truth? I’m not sure he would have told it to a mere state senator.
You took on tough capital cases, and you meted out justice according to dictates of law, despite the ominous pressure community members might direct at you. You also took on the challenge of presiding over mental health court, a unique initiative that suggested treatment for the disordered might be preferable to jail. Compassion, what a concept.
I thought you were a lock to be elected to the State Supreme Court last year. After all, you were running against an incumbent so lazy even his fellow Republicans were contributing to your campaign.
The Court’s loss was actually your gain. Starting in January, you’ve had time to spend with Lucy, that extraordinary woman you married, and those chirren and grandchirren. (Though that didn’t stop you from filing a citizen’s lawsuit in March against the makers of electronic bingo machines. Guess you just gotta keep your hand in.)
Too, you’ve been busy — how did you delicately phrase it to Alan Collins? — “kicking cancer’s ass.” That’s tough and interminable duty there, like trying to diagram a John Rogers sentence, but I hope you know how many folks out here are rooting for you to fulfill that personal best. Honest, intelligent people are in short enough supply these days. The state senate and the circuit court might be able to go without, but I’m not sure the planet can.
Besides, we need you around for election year. Should Greg and I get back on the air, we’ll require a correspondent in Charlotte for the convention. Preferably one that speaks fluent mule.
Courtney Haden is a Weld columnist. Send your feedback to email@example.com.