Saturday, April 22, 2017

Extra proud: Wishing Mr. Nettles and Miss Barbara of Wilcox County could see their girl now

The day Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey held her first news conference after taking over for shamed LUV GUV Robert Bentley, I watched news coverage as the Camden native repeated her priorities of righting the ship of state into an open, transparent and honest governor’s office.

“It’s the people’s business, y’all,” she said, reflecting her public-service attitude in an Alabama drawl and a sincerity that I KNOW is authentic and earned.

Alabama Gov, Kay Ivey 
I laughed out loud (I recall it as jubilant), and my next thought: I wish Mr. Nettles could see you now.

As a 15-year resident of Wilcox County and Camden, I knew our new governor’s parents before I knew her. In the early 1990s when we moved to Camden and first met Boadman Nettles Ivey and his wife Barbara, their only child, Kay Ellen, was busy being successful in Montgomery.

In a county full of characters, Nettles Ivey was a technicolor one. He was an Auburn man whose car sported Auburn license plate number 36, a Camdenite of some substance and a smart, world-wise man who spoke his mind. Barbara was a retired banker and principled lady who, I’m guessing, spent some amount of time trying to get Nettles to behave.  

I later learned Nettles Ivey was an Army major in World War II. He worked with the Gees Bend community in Wilcox County in a federal program that helped folks buy the land where they lived and farmed and taught new farming methods for the Farmers Home Administration. Barbara worked at the Lower Coastal Plain Experiment Substation and, later, was vice president at Camden National Bank. The Ivey family farmed cattle, raised horses and grew timber.

The 1990s Nettles Ivey was a friendly jumpsuit-wearing, sharp-witted, getting-elderly man who knew me as a young Selma newspaper reporter who had moved to Camden for my husband’s job.  

One day, Mr. Nettles called me at home and asked, “Young lady, if I buy that newspaper, The Wilcox Progressive Era, will you run it for me?”  I was flattered and remember saying, “I’ve always wanted to be the editor of a community newspaper, but Mr. Ivey….I’m working for MacMillan Bloedel now, and you know Mr. Hollis would never sell YOU the newspaper.”

See, Mr. Nettles occasionally disagreed with Progressive Era Editor and Publisher the late M. Hollis Curl, an admitted yellow-dog Democrat who wrote award-winning editorials and columns, at times from that viewpoint, much to the aggravation of some, including Mr. Nettles.

That day on the phone, he said, “Yeah, I reckon you’re right, but it’d be fun wouldn’t it?”

Yes sir, it would have been great fun, and it thrills me to this day that he thought enough of me to share his dream of taking over the local newspaper (that is now run, as is fitting, by Hollis’ grandson).

When I got to know Nettles and Barbara’s daughter Kay, she was director of governmental affairs and communication for the Alabama Commission on Higher Education and a member of the Alabama Forestry Association’s communications committee that I chaired. When she raised her hand to volunteer with ideas, knowledge and time, I saw so much of her parents in Kay Ivey: her well-spoken humor, grasp of landowner issues and willingness to do her part.

Before his death at 83 in 1997, Nettles Ivey had surgery at University Hospital in Birmingham, where he met my stepmother, Emily Romine, who worked at UAB doing EKGs and said “our daughter lives in Camden!” Em is outgoing with a thin-to-invisible filter, kind of like Mr. Nettles. They hit it off during his time in the hospital, and a few months later met again at a Camden restaurant when my parents and Grandpa visited us to attend of son Will’s baseball games (that got rained out).  

Em and the Ivys said hey and hugged, and when Em asked about his recovery, Mr. Nettles unzipped his jumpsuit to show how well his scar had healed. “Nettles Ivey! Put your clothes back on right now!” Miss Barbara said.  I love that memory of the governor’s parents and one of mine,

Years passed and Kay kept succeeding, having gone from school teacher to banker to hospital administrator to legislative aide, then appointments by three governors to state positions including assistant director of the Department of Commerce, formerly known as the Alabama Development Office. She became the first Republican woman to win a statewide office when she was elected treasurer in 2002 and was reelected in 2006 by the largest vote in a contested statewide election ever. As treasurer, she posted the state’s income sources online, updated technology and instilled private sector accounting and management practices.

Still, she came to forestry and farmer meetings, and when my job was eliminated in what became known as The Global Financial Crisis of 2008, Kay Ivey – even though she had to deal with that meltdown’s slam to the prepaid college tuition (PACT) program that her office managed -- helped me think through options and freely offered to be a reference.

My point: Gov. Kay Ivey is exactly who she appears to be, speaking her mind and meaning and doing what she says.

She’s the kind of person raised by Nettles and Barbara on their farm in Wilcox County – who rode horses in downtown Camden, was Wilcox Junior Miss and the county’s Girls State representative and then then first woman elected vice president of the campus-wide SGA at Auburn University.  
The first of many firsts:
Kay Ivey, AU class of 1967
  (Photo: Auburn Digital Services/al.com)

Our 54th governor’s talk of righting the state ship with open honesty is for real for Kay Ivey, just as authentic as her south Alabama accent and her devotion to public service.

Alabama lucked out with this lieutenant governor-to-governor ascension. You watch and see.

She’s already made some good calls: out with the Luv Guv’s girlfriend’s husband and in with a swift August 2017 election for a permanent replacement for senate seat of her high school classmate and new U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Organized and efficient with an accountant’s mind and a get-it-done mindset, she’s conservative but not na├»ve, has a steel-strong work ethic and a time-honed understanding of the right way to “do the people’s business, y’all.”

Gov. Kay Ivey is a blessing to a state weary of corruption, bad news and same-old self-serving politics.

In the vernacular of L.A. (lower Alabama) and of Alabama at large, our new governor is good people…who comes from good people and a good place.

And I sure wish Mr. Nettles and Miss Barbara could see their girl now.