What Makes Ronnie Roll: It’s Times Like These When You Need Louis Armstrong

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

Mayor Ronnie and I started off our time together sharing the shock of what happened the night before in Elkmont, and asking all the usual questions that communities and individuals ask when there has been a tragedy such as a whole family being murdered by an adolescent family member. “Were there signs?” “Could it have been prevented?” “How can we help, and what do we do?” Mayor Ronnie told me about being in Scotland for eight days, “And things like this just don’t happen there. What has happened to us?” He also told me he had recently mentioned to City Council, “Look, guys, don’t think we are immune to tragedies here in Athens just because we have such a wonderful city. It can happen anywhere,” he said, and now it has. It was something we seriously prayed about at the end of our time together, and it’s in times like this that we realize that our helplessness needs to be made into something helpful.

Kim Glaze, who is the secretary to the mayor, had brought in a canvas wall decoration she and her husband Earl had found in a thrift store in Odessa, TX, which has just had its own tragic shooting. It was an artful presentation of Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World,” which he made famous in 1967. Kim looked at me and said, “I want my grandson to believe this really is a wonderful world,” and we both blinked away tears. By contrast, Mayor Ronnie has an old friend who no longer lives here. When he travels through, he gets off at Exit 351 and drives through our town to see how things are going. He always tells Mayor Ronnie “how beautiful everything is; how well you are growing.”

On this particular Monday morning, it was hard to know what to say, except that both things are true. We are a beautiful city, and also senseless destruction of precious human life had taken place at the hands of a young man whose own life had barely begun, and now in so many ways is itself destroyed.

I checked back in with Mayor Ronnie again on Wednesday, and he was doing way better; as was I. We both decided that Satchmo had it right, and we needed to be like what Mr. Armstrong talks about in the song:
I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do
They’re really saying I love you
I hear babies crying, I watch them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know
And I think to myself what a wonderful world
Yes I think to myself what a wonderful world

In many respects, 1967 was not a beautiful year in our country, but Satchmo could still see beauty. More importantly, the mayor and I realized that we need to be people who both see beauty, and cultivate it wherever we roll.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner