Russell’s Ramblings

Those who do not hear the music might think the dancer mad

Goodbye to the Gipper

This article, written in 2004, appeared in the Lake Norman Chamber newsletter.

 Last month, June, marked an anniversary in my life.  It was a dozen years ago that a small town boy from Rock Hill, South Carolina was elected president of the United States Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees).  Many of you are probably familiar with the Jaycees.  However, for those of you who may not be – the Junior Chamber is a civic organization for young people in more than 100 countries with 200,000 members worldwide in 6,000 communities.

 In 1992, I was elected National President in Portland, Oregon.  It was a closely contested election running against a Jaycee from Arkansas and another from North Carolina.  While the election was a moment to remember, perhaps my real thrill was meeting the keynote speaker of the convention that year – Ronald Wilson Reagan.  While Reagan was four years removed from office, he still carried the confidence and charisma that people remembered fondly last month.reagan00011

As the incoming national president, I had the opportunity to meet with him firsthand, sharing lunch in a very informal setting.  Reagan captivated our group with stories and anecdotes of his days in the movies and in public office.

In our encounter, he retold a story I’m sure he used on many occasions about the farmer and the attorney.  As his story went, a farmer in an old pickup truck and an attorney in his sports car collided on a back country road.  Immediately after the collision, the farmer leaped from the truck and asked how the attorney felt.  The attorney, woozy from the collision, was a bit shaken.  So the farmer reached behind the seat of his truck and pulled out a bottle of whiskey.

 “Here, take a swig of this, it’ll make you feel better,” said the farmer.  The attorney agreed he felt a bit better.  The farmer encouraged another sip, and then another, until the attorney felt pretty darn good.  The attorney, feeling pretty spry now, thanked the farmer for his kindness and inquired if he wanted the last little bit from the bottle.  The farmer, with a grin on his face, said, “Nah…I’ll wait till after the state trooper arrives.”

The ancient Greeks believed that character was formed in part by fate and in part by parental training, and that character was exemplified not only by acts of bravery in battle but in the habits of daily conduct.  In our brief meeting I was captured by Reagan’s charisma.  His optimism, drive, and spirit made a profound impact on me as I began my year as national president.  Our theme “Wake Up America!” encouraged young people to get involved in their communities – take part in the political debate regardless of their partisan affiliation.

Last month, Reagan’s death hung heavy on my heart.  I felt like I was reliving the death of my grandfather who shaped so many of my views and beliefs.  Both were men of character, simple and down to earth men, who seemed to understand themselves and focused on their objectives.  They were men of character from a time when character was held in higher esteem than it seems to be today.  A time when character was king.  There will be debate about Reagan’s legacy.  Some will praise him and others will say he fell short. 

I know how he made me feel about my community and my country.  And that’s his legacy to me.  Thank you Gipper.
Addressing the U.S. Junior Chamber 1992

Addressing the U.S. Junior Chamber 1992

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Job Well Done – Rev. Jeff Lowrance

This article was written in 2007 and appeared in the Lake Norman Chamber newsletter.  It was about my good friend Rev. Jeff Lowrance.  He was not just a spiritual leader in our community – for many he was a teacher, activist, mentor, and friend.  While we miss his leadership, his presence is always felt in the lives he touched.


Rev. Lowrance with Huntersville Commissioner Thompson

A few weeks ago the Lake Norman region lost one of its natural resources.  It was not a commodity, a piece of valuable real estate, or a scenic greenway.  It was however a special asset whose void will be hard to replace.  The Rev. Jeff Lowrance finally succumbed to a near three year bout with cancer. Jeff, the pastor of Hopewell Presbyterian Church in Huntersville, was an inspiration to many as he fought the disease valiantly.  Pastoring his flock, calling on the sick and bedridden, and counseling others even as the illness ravaged his body, often leaving him physically drained. 

Rev. Lowrance was an avid historian of the Revolutionary War and the early settlers of Mecklenburg County.  Like them, Jeff had the resolve and determination of the men and women who first settled our region.  He spoke and preached often of the Scotch Irish who stood up to the English and issued the first Declaration of Independence – the Meck Dec. I first met Jeff when community leaders were assembled to help preserve and restore a piece of history that was in sad disrepair –the Hugh Torrance House & Store in Huntersville.  Together, our small group lobbied local, county and state leaders for funding to preserve the historical treasure.

Rev. Lowrance with Huntersville Commissioner Thompson in 1998 at the Hugh Torance House & Store. Over the last decade, I witnessed Jeff’s passion for preservation on many occasions as he pleaded his case before town and county boards – working to preserve historical areas, protecting slave cemeteries, or honoring our past leaders.  While heritage and history was second to his primary mission of serving the Lord, Jeff understood the relationship between church and community. Last fall, we discovered issues here at the chamber of commerce that resulted in the most trying moments of my professional career.  A long time member of our staff betrayed the confidence and faith we placed in this employee.  I will confess that I had a wide ranging reaction.  I was hurt, disappointed, and angry.

I turned to Jeff for his counsel looking for answers.  Jeff and I sat down to discuss the issue in his office.  I recall telling him how my personal and professional challenge paled in comparison to the daunting health challenge he faced.  Jeff smiled and said we all have problems – let’s talk about yours.  I talked and Jeff listened.  Before I left we prayed together.  Neither he nor I had an answer why people do bad things.  But we both understand good people make it through bad times.  They get through it because of their faith and because of their friends.

I will miss Jeff.  However, each day that I drive to work I am reminded of my friend.  A man who served his Lord.  Whose mark was left on his community for generations to come.  A mark greater than historical markers or designations.  A lasting imprint left on the people, the parents, and the children of our region.  I know that the instant Jeff left this earthly realm he was welcomed home.  The doors were opened wide to his father’s house.  He was welcomed by those who arrived before him.  The Scotch Irish he preached so fondly of on Sunday mornings.  I can only imagine the Lord and Jeff looking back on his life’s work and the legacy he has left.  And perhaps the words we would all like to hear said –  “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Leadership Lessons | , , , , | 1 Comment

A Remarkable Journey – Strom Thurmond

This article was written in December of 2006 following the death of U.S. Senator Strom Thurmond.


Last month two significant events occurred which had a profound impact on Americans and southerners in particular.  One was a dramatic Supreme Court decision ruling that racial preferences can be used for undergraduate and law school admissions.  Just a few days after the Supreme Court decision, in the little South Carolina town of Edgefield, a political giant slipped away.  Strom Thurmond left a huge footprint on American politics.  The only write-in Senate candidate ever elected, Thurmond transformed the political landscape of the south.


Thurmond supporters cannot defend the segregationist views of his past.  In 1957, he led a 24-hour filibuster on a civil rights bill that still ranks as the longest speech ever on the senate floor.  However, this same Senator abandoned his separatist rhetoric and in 1983 voted to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday.  In 1987, when the government was considering defunding the Martin Luther King Jr. Commission, King’s widow called on Senator Thurmond.  An hour later the Senator had preserved the commission and had doubled its funding.


I met the Senator while I was president of the South Carolina Jaycees. Jaycee chapters organize many of South Carolina’s parades and festivals and the two of us found ourselves in outdoor events across the state.  Two years later, while President of the United States Junior Chamber, our organization was holding a Governmental Affairs program in Washington, DC.  A member of my staff called Senator Thurmond’s office to inquire whether he could coordinate a tour of the capitol for the fifty state Jaycee Presidents and my Executive Committee.  The staff member said they would check and call back.  In a few minutes, my secretary informed me Senator Strom Thurmond was on the phone.  The Senator said it would be an honor to lead the tour himself.  For nearly two hours, my state Senator took our group on a journey through time.  A journey he had made through his years of service to our state and country.strom00011


By now it is quite evident the pride I have of the elder statesman of my native state.  Could he have done more for civil rights when he had the opportunity?  Yes.  Could he have said, “I’m sorry for my earlier views?”  Absolutely.  But when many politicians let their words speak for their intentions, Thurmond’s actions spoke louder than the words.

Race is still used in hiring and admissions.  People of all colors practice it when they choose where to shop, where to dine,  and where to vacation.  Strom Thurmond spent seven decades in politics and while he could have done more for civil rights, he changed the way people felt about each other.  Some day because of leaders like Strom Thurmond and Martin Luther King, Jr. we will realize it’s not enough to be equal in the eyes of the law, we must be equal in the eyes of each other.  Let’s hope that day is soon.

March 26, 2009 Posted by | Politics | , , , , | Leave a comment