For once I beat him to his office. He sent up a message from below in the Athens Utilities Command Center that he was on his way up, and one thing I have always appreciated about Mayor Ronnie is that even if it is Monday morning, he brings joy and energy with him when he walks in the door, and greets everyone on the team that helps run our town. I listened and smiled as I heard him greeting everyone in his “wake,” making sure they were ok and finding out how their weekend had been.
Speaking of “teams,” he was virtually lit up about Athens having hosted some girls’ softball tournaments over the weekend. He had gotten compliments from visiting teams from around Alabama about how clean the Sportsplex was and how good the field was to play on, but mentioned that clean up was going to be a mess. He knew this because he had already been there earlier that morning. However, what had tickled him was just how well even the 8 year olds could play, the result of great coaching and lots of practice.
“They were just little bitty girls,” he said, “And you should have seen ‘em! They could throw, they could pitch, they could field and they hit the heck out of the ball” “OK, Mr. Mayor, but did they slide?” “Oh yeah,” he said, and for emphasis, said it again. “And,” he added, “they got dirty, and were hot and sweaty.” I then asked, “How did they do?” He replied, “Well, they did well, but Talladega won against Cullman. And they did the coolest thing,” he said. “The girls from Cullman lined up on two sides and formed an arch with their hands at the top for Talladega to walk through on the way to receive their trophy.” That stopped me, and brought a lump to my throat. We didn’t say anything for a minute. It was not lost on either of us how powerful that level of sportsmanship was, especially these days.
Then he told me the story of “HK Derryberry,” a 24 year old man who is blind, has cystic fibrosis, and is an inspirational speaker. Holly Hollman had written a piece on HK being allowed to be “Mayor For A Day,” and Mayor Ronnie told me that in less than two hours HK had promised to cut taxes by 50%, allocated a million dollars for a fire truck, and a million dollars for Utilities. “HK,” said the Mayor, “I am going to have to cut your term as mayor short, because you are going to break this town!” HK’s story is remarkable. There was a horrible accident when his mother was carrying him, and they were only able to save HK. His father abandoned him, and his grandmother is the one raising him. HK will be the first one to tell you that the only limitations are the ones you allow, and he has built the life to prove it.
For the next “Ronnie” we are going to talk about fun stuff like budgets and the end of the fiscal year, and get back to “The Seamless City,” but for this edition, Mayor Ronnie invites you to “roll” with the simple beauty of baseball and the story of an “against-all-odds“ triumphant life in Athens, Alabama.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner