Just like that, the honors for Charlie Norwood became memorials.
With shocking suddenness, our congressman passed away Tuesday. He'd been home less than a week since his office announced he was ending cancer treatment and entering hospice care.
The governor will now call for a special election, which is sure to be a rushed, noisy free-for-all.
But no matter how loud the rhetoric gets, no candidate can measure up to Norwood. The voters will fill his seat - but no one can fill his shoes.
In that regard, it's important to note that Norwood was the first congressman elected from Columbia County since George Walker Crawford in 1843.
It is amazing how we took that for granted. Until Norwood's 1994 election, the seat had been held by someone as close as Augusta and as far away as Athens, but never from Columbia County.
It is a true, and tremendous, credit to our community's conservatism - and Charlie's - that his 13 years in Congress didn't include an open seat at the federal funding trough. Norwood brought significant assistance and clout to the Savannah River Site, to the Medical College of Georgia and to Fort Gordon. But he didn't lard up the budget with "earmark" goodies for his hometown.
We didn't miss it. But we sure will miss him. Where is the politician of the stature to follow in Norwood's footsteps? How will such a person escape Norwood's considerable shadow?
Former state Sen. Randy Hall says it best: "We've lost a giant."
Norwood moved away from Columbia County two years ago, leaving a high-maintenance riverfront spread in Evans for a suburban Augusta location. But even when he was stuck in Washington, D.C., because of health complications, his heart was always here at home. His visits each year to Columbia County's Red, White and Blue Veterans Celebration were an annual highlight for the community.
This year's event will, inevitably, struggle to live up to those expectations, just as Norwood's successor will have a long climb in filling his seat. For now, the shadow of sadness on our community threatens to grow as large as the leadership void in our nation's capitol, both of which expanded considerably because of the death of Charlie Norwood.
May God reward him dearly, and bring comfort to his family.
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