Joey Carter was the youngest of three boys, and like a lot of third-son families, he got tough by neccessity because he had two older brothers.
I grew up with two older brothers, too, and knew what it was like to stand your ground. I've got the scars on my knuckles to prove it. And because I was big for my age, I didn't do much backing down to other kids, either.
But there was a day that I did, and it was to Joey Carter.
I was probably 10 or 11. I'd been across the dirt road at Doug Morris' house, and walked over to the Carter boys' yard. Joey, who was a couple of years younger than me and a lot smaller, decided to pick a fight - insulting me, shoving me and daring me to hit him.
With his older and bigger brothers looking on in clenched-fist silence, hoping I'd take the bait and allow them to come to Joey's rescue in their own yard, I turned and walked away. Their laughing taunts followed me across that narrow dirt road, which suddenly felt as wide as an interstate highway.
Doug's big brother later soothed my wounded pride when he told me it takes a big man to walk away from a fight. It's a lesson in humility I've carried with me my entire life since.
I thought of this story last week when I heard that Duncan Wheale had decided to back down from a political fight with William Fleming.
This battle had been brewing ever since Wheale was elected four years ago. The mob chorus reached a crescendo when Wheale was forced to defend himself against trumped-up charges of brandishing a gun to threaten a defendant in his courtoom.
Wheale and his family went through some unimaginably tough times during that fight until his accusers mysteriously backed off. Then, the mob was suddenly silenced when the Georgia Supreme Court sided with a lawsuit from Wheale, throwing out Fleming's antiquated system of assigning cases to judges.
Wheale had taken down the system, his supporters said. Now he could go after its architect.
Plenty of us wanted to see the brawl of a lifetime, the upstart taking on the entrenched chief judge in the Augusta Judicial Circuit, the bad blood flowing openly. We would have been happy to hold Wheale's robe while he jumped into the ring with Fleming.
It took a big man to size up that fight, to look at his own obligations, and just walk away.
Could he have won? I have no doubt I could have pounded Joey Carter into the Phinizy dust. But then his brothers would have gotten instant revenge. Likewise, many people believe Wheale could have used heavy votes from his Columbia County home base to allow him to run for Fleming's seat and beat him - but oh, the beating he would take along the way. And none of it with a guarantee that he'd ultimately win.
Duncan Wheale instead will run for re-election to his own seat (don't be surprised if the Fleming faction is working to recruit a challenger). He'll also be working hard as board chairman for the Salvation Army, as the charitable organization seeks to raise money for matching funds to build a new campus.
Those fights are big enough for anyone, and Wheale wasn't willing to walk away from them for a bigger battle. In the case of the Salvation Army, it's because he's fighting for others and not himself.
There has been a lot of support and plenty of mumbled taunts directed at Wheale since he decided not to fight Fleming. But it took a big man to walk away from that confrontation.
Duncan Wheale is a big man. He's also patient. And he's a couple of decades younger than Fleming. Walking away now doesn't mean the fight's over - it just means Wheale can fight it when he's ready.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.)
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