For better or for worse, people often ask where pundits go for political inspiration and insight.
There's one less answer to that question, because one of those best sources just left us: Bobby Waters.
Buried Sunday in his hometown of Mitchell, Ga., Waters died last Thursday of a heart attack while sitting in traffic in Martinez on Belair Road at Interstate 20.
This intersection is jinxed: Just four days earlier, Columbia County Deputy Wesley Mack was killed in a motorcycle crash on I-20 approaching Belair Road. The area claimed two great men in one week.
Waters would have noticed the coincidence. He was always good at putting together the little pieces of puzzles -- not literal puzzles, but mind-puzzles -- which is what made him such a sought-after political advisor.
He and I talked or e-mailed often, and Waters had a rare talent: No matter how rough a campaign, he'd never speak ill of the other candidate. He was always very guarded, reserved and gentlemanly. But he was also very honest.
One of the last times we spoke, he told me a story about dissuading a tightly wound potential candidate from seeking office this year. "What did you say?" I asked, incredulously. "I said, 'you don't have any money, and nobody's going to vote for you,'" Waters answered.
That kind but brutal honesty did the trick. The would-be candidate sat this one out.
Waters ran the campaigns of Tommy Mercer and George James for County Commission. Mercer won; James didn't. And he gave advice in countless other campaigns. Win or lose, they all gained something just from having sought Waters' perspective.
But Waters was about so much more than politics, even though this time of year the squabbles seem to consume so many of us. For Columbia County, he was about recreation -- and his efforts will continue to bless this county for years to come.
As chairman of the county's Recreation Advisory Board, Waters was the go-to guy for any assistance the Recreation Department needed with fund-raisers, special events or just new ideas. His hand has been in just about everything the department has done for well over a decade, helping guide a group of unsung, behind-the-scenes workers who provide tremendous support for the county's kids.
Waters was the man behind organizing the county's Fourth of July celebration at Patriots Park, helping it to become the community's premiere Independence Day fireworks show. The guy who pulls the trigger on those fireworks each year, Joe Jackson, mourned Waters at Hatcher Funeral Home on Saturday night along with hundreds of others who knew only one small facet of Waters' rich life.
Because it wasn't just politics or recreation; there was also education. Waters taught school in Columbia, Jefferson and Richmond counties, and at his death was assistant principal of Hephzibah Middle School. Fellow educators also paid tribute Saturday and at his funeral Sunday.
Though he once taught at Harlem High, Waters never had me in a classroom. But I perhaps learned more from him than most of the teachers who did.
Bobby knew how to disagree without dragging up anger or resentment. He knew how to bring people together for a shared goal, such as the county gaining a spot on the prestigious Memphis in May barbecue cook-off circuit.
Most of all, he knew how to be a husband, a father and a friend -- stuff no one learns in a classroom, but things he taught by example to everyone around him.
For his family and the community he loved so much, there's now a hollow spot in Columbia County with the death of Bobby Waters. All who learned from him have a tough job trying to fill it.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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