The Biblical Parable of the Talents contains a line that has become a standard in funerals. Ministers in effect quote God as welcoming a departed Christian by saying, Well done, my good and faithful servant.
In telling the story to his disciples, Jesus described the good and faithful servant as one who had wisely invested money given to him by his master; the wicked servant was one who simply hid the money to safely return it later - nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Rather than promoting good investment strategies, though, Jesus used the story as a call to put our God-given talents and abilities to use.
For that reason, the parable is perfectly appropriate in saying farewell to Guy Fleming Jr., who passed away last week after an extended illness.
Fleming exemplified the good and faithful servant; not only did he use his talents, but he directed them in service to his fellow citizens, improving his community as he did so. We are fortunate Columbia County is the community that Fleming chose to serve.
As a Columbia County native and 71-year resident of the community, Fleming is a rarity. There arent many old-timers whove been here their entire lives. Fleming grew up in rural Leah. His first service was to his country during the Korean War, and he retired from the Army in 1964.
But he returned to Columbia County, and his public service continued with a two-year term on the Harlem City Council. That ended in 1968, a giant year for the future of Flemings home county.
Thats because voters in 1968 approved a measure that changed the method of selecting members of the countys school board. Until that time, the countys grand jury picked school board members; that often meant school board service was reserved for the privileged and the powerful.
With the exception of Flemings own childhood home - Leah - all of the countys nine precincts favored a change to an elected school board. Fleming ran for the new Harlem seat on the school board, and faced fellow Harlem City Council member LeGrand A. Van Keuren Jr. in the November General Election.
Fleming won, and joined Bill Jackson (now a state representative), Leon Zeigler and Lamar Walter as new trustees. John Price Jr. also won election, and was the only man to have also served on the appointed school board.
The service that Fleming and these men provided came at a time when powerful Superintendent John Pierce Blanchard managed a 1968-69 budget of just over $2 million - the current school system budget is well over $100 million - and he could report at the start of the school year that the school system had 12 empty classrooms.
This was the same year in which current school board attorney Jim Blanchard Jr. received his law degree. It was the year before the courts would change everything in Columbia County schools.
On Dec. 15, 1969, the federal court ordered Georgia schools to end their separate-but-equal racial segregation. Columbia County was given just three months to come up with a plan to do so.
While the much of the nation went through unrest and turmoil, Columbia County made a smooth transition to racial integration. Blanchard has rightly received much of the credit for managing the changes, but it couldnt have happened without the steady support of Fleming and his fellow trustees.
He was a fine person, says Mary Sanders, a former school board member who in 1969 was principal of a black elementary school. Blanchard paved the way for the transition, she says, while the board made sure the switch went smoothly.
Fleming served two terms, including time as chairman, and left the board in 1976. He was elected once more in 1980, and again helped oversee a transition - this time from the three decades of Blanchards leadership to the eventual change to a hired, rather than elected, superintendent.
Flemings life, then, was one in which he helped his county make transitions from the sleepy rural settings of his youth - a time when one Richmond County observer said more people would come to Columbia County to escape high taxes if the schools werent so bad - to a booming suburban community with some of the best schools in the state.
Through it all, Fleming didnt enrich himself at the public trough, or demean himself and his office, as politicians often are rightly stereotyped. He simply served his community, applying ethical standards that were above reproach and working, really working, to make Columbia County a better place.
Thank God he did. To a good and faithful servant of the people, well done, Guy Fleming Jr. Rest in peace.
(Barry L. Paschal is opinions editor of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barrypaschal@ yahoo.com.)
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