When we gathered for our usual “second-edition-Monday-morning-appointment,” Mayor Ronnie was utterly energized by having just attended the first “Superhero Fun Day” over the weekend. The event was sponsored by the Childhood Cancer Superheroes of Alabama, and it was held in Big Spring Park. It drew probably close to a total of a thousand people over the course of the day, and I have heard from others as well that it was simply amazing. Local car dealerships provided shiny cars and trucks for the parade, the costumes worn by the adults were high end and not flimsy, the Mustang Club revved their engines and thrilled the kids, the DJ was superb, and for a moment, people could forget that these kids (and their families) were in the fight of their life.
I asked, “Is it going to become a part of Festival Season?” “I certainly hope so,” he said, and then proceeded to tell me about all the “characters” who had come out of the woodwork to make fighting childhood cancer so cool. The incredible Hulk (with scarily large real-live muscles, judging from the pictures), Spiderman, Superman–(“woman,” girl,” boy,” baby”), Batman, War Machine, they were all there. “As long as there is childhood cancer, we need to keep having this event,” he said.
We turned to the wieldy topic of “managing the government” from the chapter by the same name in Rick Baker’s “The Seamless City.” As we did, I was pulled up short and teared up as I saw a quote that had meant so much to me while I was with “framily” in Mexico fighting cancer, only we weren’t in costume! The late John White, his wife, Leonel White Gibson, and I spent a life-changing two weeks at the Oasis of Hope Cancer Hospital in Tijuana. The following, which had been said a century earlier by Theodore Roosevelt, was the first thing you saw every morning when you got in the elevator to go begin the day’s treatment:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how
the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena…who errs, and comes short…
who spends himself in a worthy cause…”
Fighting cancer is a worthy cause, as is building a city government team that is healthy, united and productive. One of Mayor Ronnie’s great challenges is that 66 of the over 300 city employees are due to retire in the next five years, and his vision and charge is to “hand off” the city to a new generation of employees that is well equipped to make Athens even better than it became on his watch. Currently he is in the selection process for a new Human Resources manager, which is one of those crucial “back stage” roles in any city/corporation. “That person has got to be ‘just right,’” he said. I have watched him field with grace complaint calls that seemed so trivial while expressing concern for other Athenians who are fighting terminal diseases. As Baker says, “It takes no talent to constantly look for bad things in order to highlight the failures of others, but it takes courage and vision to plan, promote and lead.”
This is not to say that people in leadership never fail, or that mistakes and shortcomings should never be dealt with or pointed out, but it has to be done with respect. Baker says it best: “In order to build on common ground tomorrow, we will need the help of those with whom we disagree today.” I might add that we also need the help of those who disagree with us, and in those contexts the need for mutual respect is never greater or tougher to summon. Clearly we had much to pray about, and so we did. Councilman Jimmie Gill, himself a cancer survivor, was Mayor Ronnie’s next appointment, and it was time to roll; but not until Ronnie checked to make sure I had coffee for the road…
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner