What Makes Ronnie Roll: Choppin’ Cotton In A Crew Cut

Mayor Ronnie Marks grew up in Ripley, and graduated from High School in 1962, the year, some say, signaled the end of innocence in our country. He, as is the case with so many folks I have met here in Athens, did his chores and homework, played baseball, (2nd base,) pickup basketball, (mostly from the bench,) worked the cotton fields alongside people of any color, and his memories are that “folks were happy. We just all came together and helped each other,” much like what we saw after the 2011 tornadoes.

It was a time that if you were “cool,” you put several Mickey Mantle or Roger Maris baseball cards or playing cards on the spokes of your one speed Schwinn, using your mama’s clothespins to do so. That way you could get your bike to make the unique clicking sound that could only be generated by cards, and everyone could hear you coming. These days said trading cards are worth thousands of dollars, and most kids don’t even know what you are talking about when you tell them that was one way to “strut your stuff!”

Ronnie knows, however, especially from his many years working for the Alabama State Department of Human Resources, “happiness was not the experience of everyone.” He spent several years working for DHR dealing with truancy and helping abused people of all ages. “It paved the way to my learning the concept of servant leadership and how to work with people.”

But what happened in between? “It took me awhile to know what I wanted to do. I majored in Chemistry and Biology, and graduated from UNA. I worked as a “lab rat” to get through school, and still worked cotton to help pay for my tuition. I taught school for a few years, some of which were at West Limestone High, and at one school I was the only white guy in the whole place. Then along came Vietnam.”

His Army tours in ‘Nam were in ’69 and ’70, and he came home to a different, not so happy America. Viet Nam made him more determined than ever to help people, and to that end, he got his Master’s in Social Work. He spent seven years working as a lobbyist in Montgomery, and as far as politics is concerned, he has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Some of his most satisfying work came as a result of being appointed by former Governor Bob Riley to the task force that dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina down in the Gulf. He reported directly to the Governor, “and I was glad to be able to help people who had lost everything.”

He loves God, his wife, his kids and grandkids, (although on a recent vacation he was sorely tempted to take away the smart phone from one of his granddaughters because she wouldn’t stop texting,) and he loves to play golf. When we did this interview at LuVici’s on a Saturday morning, we had to hustle because he had a tee time at 9:30. Busy as he is, he makes a point to fill his mind with Scripture and other inspirational literature, and as is often the case, shared with me his current favorite saying. It is as follows: “We are all works in progress-green tomatoes ripening on the windowsill of life.” Indeed we are, and that, my dear town folk, is some of what makes Ronnie roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner