A humble servant

Published 12:47 pm Saturday, April 20, 2013

It’s tempting to fill this space with all of the reasons I liked and respected Mac Coker, my friend who died last week at age 82.

To do so would disappoint Mac, who eschewed public recognition of his good deeds, which were many.

Fellow Rotarian Gaynelle Riddick set out a year or so ago to chronicle for this newspaper Mac’s long, faithful coordination of the civic club’s annual bell-ringing for the Salvation Army. Mac, who insisted on pre-publication review of the article, would have nothing of any personal credit for the tens of thousands of dollars collected by the club in recent decades.

Gaynelle wasn’t about to disappoint him. Neither was I (tempting as it was to publish the original draft and seek forgiveness where permission never would have been granted).

Such was the respect we had for Mac.

Beyond the profound sadness felt by those of us who knew him, his death — and that of contemporary Paul Camp Marks the next day — is another painful reminder of the demise of a generation of Americans who gave selflessly to their communities.

Old-timers reminisce fondly about Franklin’s heyday as a prosperous, idyllic town without giving themselves proper credit for what it was.

Mac and Paul’s generation came home from college and military service and plunged directly into their obligations — yes, obligations — as public and civic servants.

Employers like Mac’s Union Camp didn’t just encourage community service by their employees. They insisted on it.

It’s no coincidence that public schools thrived, that churches and civic organizations flourished, and that Franklin residents’ quality of life was considered among the finest in small-town America.

Because it was part of the generation’s fabric, guys like Mac continued to serve their communities even in retirement, when they were personally less invested in the outcomes.

It’s hard to get my generation to even attend a City Council meeting or take interest in a hot-button community issue. Such was Mac’s interest in his community that he and his buddies would gather once a month upstairs at Fred’s and invite a guest speaker to talk about a pressing issue of the day.

In an age of apathy, his generation cared. Our community is richer for what they contributed — and poorer for the growing void created by their deaths.

STEVE STEWART is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is steve.stewart@tidewaternews.com.