“I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday.” Me and Bobby McGee -Kris kristofferson
Funerals appear on my schedule with alarming frequency these days. I have reached the age where so many of my friends have grown tired and weary, only to mercifully find their final rest in the restorative residence of Heaven.
My friend, Brad Dye, Mississippi’s longest serving lieutenant-governor, found that perfect solace this week, after suffering a long illness.
Anyone who says that he has no regrets is lying. I have many regrets. I regret some things that I did and many more things that I did not do. My biggest regret can be summed up in one word: procrastination.
The last three times I saw my old friend Brad was at the funerals of mutual friends. On each occasion we visited, reminisced, and vowed to get together soon. Over the course of the next few months life intervened and delayed until death finally settled the matter forever. Despite our best efforts and good intentions, we never had that final visit. Procrastination was the only cause.
Brad Dye had a long and distinguished career of public service. He served in both houses of the Mississippi legislature, one term as state treasurer, and three consecutive terms as lieutenant governor, the longest in state history. His service as lieutenant governor was during the administrations of Governors William Winter, Bill Allain, and Ray Mabus, three of the most progressive-minded administrations in state history.
My friendship with Brad spanned more than four decades. Brad was a politician’s politician. He understood politics and reveled in making things work. Governor William Winter’s historic education reform measures would not have become law without the skilled behind-the-scenes maneuvering of Lieutenant Governor Dye. The 1987 four-lane highway package became a reality because of his tireless efforts. Our state’s colleges and universities had no better ally than Brad Dye, especially his pet project the University of Mississippi Medical School and hospital facilities.
Brad loved politics and the company of politicians. In the tradition of Sam Rayburn’s “Board of Education” meetings and the social hours hosted by Brad’s mentor, Senator James O. Eastland, Brad would hold after-hours, private meetings in his personal office in the State Capitol building. I was privileged to have a standing invitation to these marathon sessions and was a frequent participant. For well over a decade, important decisions were discussed and often resolved in this backroom setting. Folks that were at odds today were tomorrow’s reliable allies. Partisan bickering and childish name calling were not tolerated.
After Brad exited the public stage these sessions were moved to the backroom of Tico’s Steakhouse, where Brad continued to hold court and dispense wisdom. Many of those sessions hold a special place in my memory. I remember one such discussion with particular clarity.
We were lamenting the arrival on the political scene of several self-righteous, media hungry, charlatans that were gaining popularity on the political stage. Brad calmed my concerns by saying, “Reno (the nickname he had assigned to me, short for ‘Stevereno’): “We have a big advantage over those kind of folks: we ride an old gray mare, and when we step off in a mud hole, like we are all bound to do, the mud doesn’t show up on us nearly as much as it does on them and their shiny white horses. And believe me, they’ll step in mud the next time it comes a good rain!”
In 1984, I was chairman of the Mississippi Democratic Party. The national convention, which was held in San Francisco, nominated former Vice President Walter Mondale for President. Brad Dye was chairman of Mississippi’s delegation. Upon arrival in San Francisco, we learned that the convention provided limousines for both the delegation chair and the party chair. Of course, Brad and I immediately made our way to the parking facility to pick out our ride and driver. We chose the two longest, most pimped out white Cadillac limos in the parking lot, complete with a chrome spare tire mounted in the rear!
Two drivers, experienced at navigating the crooked, hilly streets of San Francisco, were also assigned to us. One, a particularly colorful character who weighed in at well over 300 pounds and had a striking resemblance to the trumpet player Al Hirt. Brad and I immediately made the executive decision to assign one limo and driver to the delegation and to retain the other one, along with Al Hirt, for our own use. While there was a fair amount of work involved in the exercise of our official duties, I can’t remember a more fun-filled week in my life. We had a blast. To this very day, stories are being told of our adventures in San Francisco.
Brad’s last campaign was the same year that I made my first statewide campaign. We had the same circle of friends. Political observers at the time often referred to Brad and me as being the last of the “Eastland Boys.” Although Brad was much more entitled to that designation than I was, I embraced it, even though it was not meant as a compliment in some circles. We began that campaign by traveling to political rallies and various events together, until some of our mutual friends suggested that the appearance of being together might not be politically wise. So, we reluctantly went our separate ways!
The passing of Brad Dye, in a very real sense, signals the end of an era in Mississippi politics. Personal relationships and true friendships are no longer cultivated with care, and have been replaced with purely partisan quarreling, obscene expenditures, impersonal social media, and electronic dazzle!
I sincerely believe more good was accomplished, and better policies emerged, when politicians of good will sat down and reasoned together. Politics was noble, productive and fun in those days.
The demonization of old school politics and politicians has not been a healthy development for our republic. I long for that era where much could be accomplished over a good meal and a drink of good bourbon. In those days, an effort was made in some “backroom” to understand each other’s perspectives and motivations.
I guess what I miss most is the time when politics was not all-out war, but civil — and actually fun. I will miss my old friend Brad Dye. For me, he was the embodiment of a time when politics was a noble calling, and also a hell of a lot of fun! Leaders like him are, today, on the brink of extinction. Today’s culture will not permit us the benefit of having leaders of his caliber.
May he Rest In Peace and his family be comforted by his legions of friends and the sure hand of God.