Son defends Father’s good name

Published 1:20 pm Saturday, June 8, 2013

To the Editor:

In light of recent events, including calls for Buzz Bailey’s resignation from the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors, I’d like the opportunity to tell the public about the kind and honorable man I know as my father.

His remarks at a Supervisors’ meeting about printing Confederate money to help with budget shortfalls was an innocent and lighthearted remark more about deficits than bringing back the old South. My father is a Civil War buff whose ancestors are all from New York. Those who fought, did so on the Union side. While he admires the battle tactics of Robert E. Lee, he also admires Ulysses S. Grant, both as a soldier and a good man who tried his best to serve honorably as president in spite of unscrupulous associates. His remarks should be taken in the spirit they were given, and should not imply that my father wishes for a return to the Confederacy. That would be ridiculous.

I readily admit, as does my father, that the email he received and forwarded contains offensive jokes. Many of us have received email forwards that require the recipient to scroll through a long series of pictures or anecdotes. We may find a few of them amusing. The subject matter ranges from cute photos of dogs and cats, to photos of various surprising feats, to sometimes tasteless and offensive jokes, the like of which should have disappeared from the American landscape long ago. My father has sincerely apologized for his lapse in judgment. The email should have been deleted, as all such material deserves. To use an email forward passed down the line to characterize a good man’s life is grossly unfair, especially in this case. Far from behaving in a racist manner in his personal relations, my father has always had African-American friends, associates, and employees, all of whom, to my knowledge, have liked and respected him for his kindness and generosity. When I was a child, some of my peers taunted me with an ugly phrase that insinuated my family was too closely associated with African-Americans. I never understood their thoughtless malice. I imagine they learned it from their parents. I learned no such lessons in my home. In the Catholic Church my family attended, people of multiple ethnicities prayed together and shared fellowship. This was an unusual situation at the time. When I got off the school bus at my father and grandfather’s business, I saw black folks and white folks talking and laughing together. I never saw my father deal rudely or dismissively with anyone. He demonstrated through his example that people should be treated as individuals, not as members of a group. My grandfather was the same way. When he died in 1985, a prominent member of the Smithfield African-American community, Willie J. Hill (now deceased), asked to be among his pallbearers.

As for president Obama, my father did not vote for him, but he told me many times that he wished the president the best and sincerely hoped he would serve the people well, help solve our budget crisis, and bring the troops home. My father has voted for Democrats, Independents, and Republicans. He is a fiscal conservative who wants both Isle of Wight County and the nation at large to live within their means. On social issues he is mostly libertarian. He deeply dislikes the sort of politicians who only want to thwart the other party rather than conduct the people’s business. He blames George W. Bush for starting an unnecessary and costly war (in both lives and treasure) in Iraq and putting our nation deeply in debt to pay for it He is decidedly not a “party man” who simply goes along with the program; he’s an independent thinker. He is certainly not a hater of anyone.

If each of us were judged by the most thoughtless remark we ever made or the most vulgar joke we ever told, who among us would be spotless? We are all works in progress, trying our best. Sometimes we fail, and in the digital realm our failures may claim an audience far larger than previously possible. It is easy to point the finger of blame and excoriation, less so to forgive a good man for an uncharacteristic lapse. You, the citizens of Isle of Wight County, must vote and act according to your conscience. I, the Obama-voting son of a kind and open-hearted man, ask that you judge my father on the merits of his life, not on isolated incidents that bear little resemblance to his true character.

Byron Bailey
Cincinnati. Ohio