More Jackson County Opinions...

July 2, 2003

By:Bill Shipp
The Jackson Herald
June 25, 2003

Lester Maddox remembered
Lester Maddox is first on “My Most Unforgettable Governors” list.
We didn’t agree on many things. His outrageous antics and irrational declarations in the name of racial segregation gave the state a black eye.
But he was a politician with little guile, a naive soul who relished mixing it up with his adversaries, a self-proclaimed defender of the “little people.” He was always good for a headline and never without a comment on just about any subject. In a sense, he was a reporter’s dream come true.
In other ways, he was a nightmare to cover. A reporter could not risk straying too far from the executive suite in the Capitol because Gov. Maddox would pop out from his office frequently and create the day’s top news without a moment’s notice — or any forethought.
Dull days just didn’t happen in the world of Gov. Maddox. In the mornings, he would denounce a perceived enemy of his “little people.” By noon, the governor might suddenly reverse course and praise the foe he had just damned. He was noted for his frequent press conferences, often conducting two or three a day. He railed against the media, but he relished the give-and-take with reporters.
Of course, he was as they said he was — an outspoken segregationist, a dinosaur in the Gold Dome, the last of his kind. The first governor elected by the Legislature, Maddox served from 1967 to 1971 and then was elected lieutenant governor in his own right. By the time his term as lieutenant governor ended in 1975, the sun had set on his brand of politics. He died last week at age 87 — a sad figure whom many remembered only for his racism and zaniness.
Maddox’s sometimes outrageous acts (riding a bicycle backward, performing birdcalls and handing out pick handles as souvenirs) and his unbridled rhetoric often overshadowed the good works of his administration.
-His judicial appointments, screened by seasoned legal minds, are considered among the best of any post-World War II administration. His executive staff included now-Sen. Zell Miller, now-Agriculture Commissioner Tommy Irvin and others who went on to achieve success in politics and the professions.
- Though he was considered a champion of racial segregation, Maddox ordered the county Boards of Public Welfare integrated and appointed the late Bill Burson, a brilliant moderate Democrat, as state welfare director.
- He ordered the local Selective Service boards integrated, reportedly at the request of then-state Rep. Julian Bond.
- He demanded the hiring of African-Americans in the State Patrol and Corrections Department. He appointed the first black person to the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Maddox battled relentlessly against speed traps in South Georgia, which gave the state a bad reputation among Florida-bound tourists along the Atlantic seaboard. He ordered a billboard erected at the outskirts of the city of Ludowici to warn motorists that they were about to enter a speed trap. He posted a state trooper at the billboard to prevent it from being torn down.
When the political boss of Ludowici came to Maddox’s office to protest, the governor grabbed him by the arm and escorted him to the door: “Get out of here, you dirty skunk!” Maddox shouted as the man hurried out of the governor’s crowded reception room.
On another occasion, Maddox angrily fired a prison warden after he learned the warden had been using convicts as game retrievers on wintry-day duck hunts over ice-cold lake waters.
Then there was the time three escaped convicts showed up at Maddox’s “Little People’s Day” to surrender personally to the governor because, they said, “We trust him.”
Maddox was a funny yet complex guy, full of bombast and energy at one moment and weighted down with depression in the next instant. He was sensitive and compassionate. I saw him weep quietly and privately on at least two occasions because of some known-only-to-him transgression committed by someone close to him.
In this era of nonstop, multichannel television, Maddox would have been a natural as an outrageous talk-show personality or just plain showman.
When I introduced my wife, Reny, to Maddox in the Capitol in 1968, Maddox burst into a series of birdcalls and presented her with an autographed pick handle, his proudest political icon. She was startled speechless by his performance.
Once, when Maddox became angry at the Atlanta newspapers — “the fish wrappers” as he called them — he ordered state employees to seize the newspapers’ vending machines in the Capitol Square area and lock them in a storage room in the Capitol.
A few days later, Maddox, stricken with a painful bout of kidney stones, summoned the newspapers’ political editor to his bedside at the Governor’s Mansion and said in a weak and pitiful voice: “I may be about to die. So I want to do right even by my enemies. You can have your newspaper boxes back.”
Maddox stories seem endless. Though his racist rhetoric and sometimes outright buffoonery did not serve Georgia well, Lester Maddox was not a George Wallace. He did not connive to promote his prejudices into a national platform. In fact, many of those close to Maddox said he was almost an innocent in the ways of real-world politics.
Immediately after his death, the national media and the big Atlanta papers chose to dwell mostly on Maddox’s dark side with only scant mention of his positive achievements. But the truth is, as Sen. Zell Miller said, “The Maddox administration was a good one, marked with historic and progressive achievements. History will judge his administration well.”
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 440755, Kennesaw, GA 30160 or e-mail:, Web address:

Jackson County Opinion Index

By: Kerri Graffius
The Jackson Herald
July 2, 2003

Forget Kim Basinger, look at Panoz
Question: What do O.J Simpson, Jerry Lewis, Elvis’ ex-girlfriend and former Braselton Mayor Henry E. Braselton all have in common? Answer: They’ve all been featured on the “E! True Hollywood Story.”
Yep, in case you missed it this week (and don’t worry, it’ll be shown numerous times again), long-time Braselton Mayor Henry E. Braselton was interviewed for one of pop culture’s most recognizable television shows. The show, which features the highs and lows in the careers of Hollywood’s characters, highlighted Kim Basinger — the “Hollywood star who bought the small town.”
At the time, Basinger was beginning to experience phenomenal star status with the 1989 release of “Batman.” She then made a move to “purchase” Braselton for $20 million. She had plans to turn the small West Jackson town into the “next Hollywood,” the headlines of the day read. Braselton was going to be “overrun” with those “Hollywood-types,” the residents worried.
And when Basinger made a public appearance at Jackson County Elementary School, she was surrounded by a mob of reporters who chased her down a hallway. My fiance, in fifth grade at the time, says he remembers running after her, too. Braselton and Jackson County was buzzing with the connection of a Hollywood star’s name to the local area.
But, in reality, nothing happened during the Braselton-Basinger era. In fact, she only owned a small portion of the town and the firm she was involved with later sold their investment to a Gwinnett County developer. No structures, no streets, no monuments, nothing has Kim Basinger’s name on it in Braselton.
And yet, you can’t talk about Braselton’s history without mentioning Kim Basinger — even if some officials today would prefer that you never say that name. Instead, when the town holds its “Celebrate Braselton” festival this week, it should focus on some of the names that actually changed Braselton.
One name that is often overlooked is Don Panoz.
Braselton was first connected to Panoz in the early 1980s, when he decided to locate a winery in the hills of North Georgia. Already, Panoz, an Irish-American, was operating a research laboratory in Gainesville for his pharmaceutical company, Elan Corporation. The company holds the patent for the nicotine patch to help smokers quit their habit.
Ground was broken for Chateau Elan, Panoz’s development, in 1984, although planting for the wine started in 1982. Today, the complex includes a winery, resort, conference center, world-class spa, equestrian center, golf courses and homes. Thanks to Chateau Elan, Braselton’s town limits stretched into Barrow and Gwinnett counties and growth influenced from the complex has also moved the town limits into Hall County. Development near Chateau Elan on Hwy. 211 is beginning to boom.
Another Panoz industry that has brought changes to Braselton is automobile racing.
The Panoz Auto Development Company, located on Hwy. 124 with a Hoschton address, has produced some top luxury racing automobiles that have received international recognition. Dr. Panoz also owns Panoz Motor Sports and the American Le Mans Series.
Road Atlanta and Lanier National Speedway, located outside town limits on Hwy. 53, often bring top-notch international racing teams to Braselton. Town officials hope to capitalize on the two race tracks’ influence by marketing to potential hotel developers (that could bring revenue to Braselton through the hotel-motel tax).
And when Year One moved to Braselton this year, company officials pointed to the influence of Road Atlanta and Lanier National Speedway as a factor in relocating. Year One, in turn, is now attracting similar industries to the Braselton-Hoschton area.
All of this from someone whose name typically isn’t on people’s minds when they think of Braselton. So, if you attend “Celebrate Braselton” this week, don’t just consider the “influence” of Kim Basinger, look at someone who truly helped to change the town’s history.
Kerri Graffius is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers. Her e-mail address is
MainStreet Newspapers, Inc.
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