Russell’s Ramblings

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

Congress – Our American Lost Cause?

U.S. Rep Tom Gettys in 1967 with Bill and Sarah Russell and Bill Jr.

One of my favorite movies is Mr. Smith goes to Washington. In this 1939 film, Jimmy Stewart, the head of the Boy Rangers, is appointed by the Governor to replace the unexpired term of a deceased Senator. Ironically the film which is now a classic was attacked by the Washington press and then elected officials as Anti-American and Pro-Communist for its portrayal of the corruption in the American Government.

This month, a delegation of business leaders from the Lake Norman Chamber will visit Washington as we meet with our federal delegation on issues ranging from highway improvements to health care and labor. It is an annual trip we make to advocate on behalf of our local businesses and the communities in which we live and work.

My first trip to Washington, D.C. was when I was nine years old. My mom and dad were attending a Jaycees Convention in nearby Baltimore and upon its completion, Congressman Tom Gettys invited us to the capital. Rep. Gettys was not unlike the fictional Jefferson Smith. A Navy veteran, Gettys was a school teacher and then Postmaster for the City of Rock Hill. He was elected in a special election to fill a resignation of our Congressman and then was reelected to four succeeding terms.

Granddaddy (Elie) Russell displaying the South Carolina Flag.

Rep. Gettys taught my Granddaddy Russell civics at Rock Hill High School and for many years after that, he and Rep. Gettys both fondly remembered the occasion. It was the first class he taught as a high school teacher. Tom self taught his way in law and passed the bar exam without ever attending law school. Perhaps unheard of today. He was also a Jaycee who mentored many of the business and civic leaders who later led Rock Hill, my father among them. My grandfather recalled what Congressman Gettys instilled in all the young people he taught – “Create a genuine interest in seeing those around you succeed. Help them achieve it, and in turn, you will be successful as well.”

It is a lesson we could all heed in both business and politics. How many of us have attended a recent networking event and spent the better part of our time listening to someone talking about themselves and their product or service with the hopes of selling more? I doubt it left you with the strong impression you wanted to be that next customer.

Instead, commit yourself to finding out more about the people you meet. How can you make them more successful? Can you help them get in front of that potential customer or client? In essence, help them reach their potential.

While we understand well how important that principle is when it comes to networking and building solid a relationship, it seems few in Washington put the interest of others before themselves. Perhaps it’s a lost cause hoping that Congress will once again put the American people before the interest of their party.

Stewart's Sen. Jefferson Smith during his filibuster

But lost causes were precisely what Sen. Jefferson Smith in the movie relished. “All you people don’t know about lost causes,” he says 23 hours and 16 minutes into his filibuster. Directing his remarks to his chief adversary, Sen. Joseph Paine, he continues, “Mr. Paine does. He said once they were the only causes worth fighting for.”

Congressman Gettys overcame long odds. He understood the lesson of putting others and service before self. It was a lesson he taught in his high school civics class. One that my grandfather later taught my dad and one that he later taught me.

Some might think that’s a lost cause – but many of us believe it’s one worth fighting for!

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September 8, 2010 - Posted by | Chamber of Commerce | , , , , ,

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