Editor’s Note: From now until Jan 1, 2013, I plan to write a piece here daily on DaddyClaxton.com to say thank you to someone I know for the recognized or unrecognized contributions they have made to my life, that of my family, friends or the general public.

Thank You, Gov. Fob James

It’s Election Day and out of the spirit of elections past, I had breakfast this morning at my local Waffle House.

The first governor I served, the late Gov. Guy Hunt went there after his defeat of Paul Hubbert in 1990.  Gov. James went there nearly all the time. I can hear him now, “They have a good menu. They’re clean.  Good food. And there’s one on every corner.”  And let’s not forget the quote that state government would do well if it could be run as efficiently as a Waffle House. The Alabama editorial boards beat him up for weeks over that one.

Gov. Fob James

But as I sat there this morning awaiting my ham and cheese omelet, a waitress was talking to the guy two seats over from me about how she doesn’t train, hire or fire anyone there. “You know, it takes a lot to figure out how to work here.  You don’t just walk in and you’ve got it.”  If only she knew how what she said was playing in to a conversation in the newspapers 15-16 years ago…..

Today’s thank you is to Gov. James. My late grandfather, Andy Sheptak, loved Gov. James and used to call him “one of my people.”  Grandpa got to know the governor through his book and from meetings along the way, like when the mother of my three daughters  and I became the only couple in Alabama history ever married by its only two Republican governors since Reconstruction.

I have dozens of great memories and stories that I still can’t tell about Gov. James.  Most of the time, he was funny and comical and didn’t let things get too serious. But when he was serious about things, you knew it.

When the Dole campaign came calling for me to be press secretary for the Southeastern United States in October of 1995, I reluctantly went to the governor to tell him I was leaving him as his press secretary.  He said, “If you hadn’t gone and I’d found out about it, I would have kicked your ….”  It was a good experience, but my leaving also cleared the way for shenanigans that never did seem to right themselves over the rest of the term.

But Fob was my friend who would call multiple times a day to ask about something. And then, like I had been told would happen, after we left office, it stopped completely.  Since January 1999, I’ve only talked to Fob twice. Once was in February 1999. He called. There was that gruff one-of-a-kind voice. “Claxton,” he said with a pause. “What is a Dell C-P-U?”  The Auditor’s Office was doing their property inventory and apparently that was on the list.  I told him that even if he had one in his hands, he wouldn’t know what it was and that it was likely in a computer somewhere, never to be reidentified.

The last time was when I was staying with Tom and Karen Taylor in Huntsville, Alabama last year.  Fob called Tom, his former head of governor’s security, I think on Mother’s Day or Easter or something.  It was good to hear the governor’s voice again and we talked for four or five minutes.

There are times still when I hear myself talking and mimicking Gov. James in my speech patterns. It’s done out of habit or something.  I really did enjoy every day I worked with him, though there were trying times as well. I’ve ridden around in hurricanes with him. I’ve been to people’s houses that have been destroyed by tornadoes, and I’ve been to Waffle Houses up and down the highway with the man, and I have to say, he’s still one of the most honorable people I’ve ever known.

Wanna know why cigars aren’t bad to smoke?  “Cos they don’t have that little warning label written on them.”  Yeah.  Most days when I got home I had to take a shower before being around anyone ‘cos of all the cigar smoke I’d been around.  But stories like that continue to make me laugh.

I was age 30 when I became the press secretary to the governor of Alabama. That was quite an honor and tremendous responsibility. For nearly a decade and under two governors, I served the people of Alabama and learned a lot from these two great men.

Thanks Gov. James. More later on Gov. Hunt.



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