Commentary: My hero

Published 7:40 pm Wednesday, August 25, 2010

By Bill Attaway

Everybody has a hero. Outside my dad, mine was a man who walked tall both in stature and authority.

My friend loved Lake Mitchell as much as anyone and spent a lot of time there fishing. I always enjoyed conversation with him. Of course, I recognized his boat from as far away as I could see it. It was a big, open bass boat, blue in color, and my friend filled it up. He was big.

If you haven’t guessed by now, my hero was the ever popular Mel Bailey, sheriff of Jefferson County for many years. The only problem with this picture was that his boat had the “stick steering” that bothered me because he was almost always fishing alone–but he wore his PFD and moved at a reasonable speed.

I remember him at the FOB conventions–he always stood out in a crowd, head full of light brown hair and was usually a head taller than anybody else. He always had his “executive assistant” who happened to be his pilot! He attracted attention regardless of where he was, and of course had this powerful booming voice when he spoke.

So, why was he my hero? He was a very devout Christian and very capable lay speaker in his church. He was involved in various civic or community services. In fact, the people who live north on Walnut Creek are deeply indebted to him for the hours he spent getting water and roads to that area–always lending a helping hand.

A few years ago, Bailey lost his wife and Misti’s mother after a long illness. He remarried after a time to one of his classmates. In a couple of years, she passed. Then, shortly after that, we lost the sheriff. Just a few weeks ago, we lost his daughter, Misti, who had lived in the lake house alone. Wow! What a loss for our community. I miss him so much–how he handled problems and how he enjoyed people.

Once, his department had a problem: A sheriff’s deputy had shot a Birmingham police officer. I needed him immediately, and of course, I was able to find him right away. I never asked him anything about the case—I thought if he wanted me to know, he would have told me.

I will always relate to the beautiful A-frame house across from Fall Branch and near my friend, Doris Maddox. It was like a landmark–before so many houses were built in the area. When Misti was small, she had a paddleboat with “BAMA” across the stern. It was still there the last time I was by there.

In one of the happier times I like to remember, I came upon my friend as he was landing a 6 1/2- pound bass in Hatchett Creek. Miss you, my friend.

– Attaway’s original Cruisin’ the Coosa column ran in The Clanton Advertiser in the 1970s and 80s.