About five years ago a goofy bunch of Nashville bureaucrats were threatening Orange Grove, Chattanooga’s gem for the intellectually and physically challenged adults. In my columns I blistered the bums, letting them know in no uncertain terms the real leaders of our community weren’t about to let that happen. Yet I was so worried about it I went “undercover,” privately talking to people who “had a vote” as a “concerned citizen,” and Mike Carter, our state representative from Ooltewah, was a quiet yet spectacular giant in the matter.
Mike, just 67, died late Saturday night and here is one where we must bang the funeral drum slowly; as the Indian Proverb reads, “Good men must die, but death cannot bury their names.” Everybody pulled mightily for him when he was infected with COVID last summer and, then - as he went for the post coronavirus checkup - it was discovered the former Sessions Court judge had pancreatic cancer.
Such a twist of the dagger is notoriously unfair for anyone.
But for Mike Carter it seemed extra cruel because his life’s service to the people was exemplary. He was a very successful lawyer but shelved his practice to serve over eight years as a trial judge in General Sessions Court. That served as a springboard into five terms in the legislature where his legal presence was a clear asset to the Hamilton County delegation. When I heard of his death early Sunday I immediately called my representative, Patsy Hazlewood, who usually is quick to reply but it took two or three hours. And mercy me, did she evermore have a great excuse.
“I got married yesterday!” she bubbled as suddenly the gloom of her colleague’s death turned not quite as bitter. “Mike was a great friend and a real asset to the Hamilton County delegation, but also to the entire state. His legal mind, and his grasp of the law, will be sorely missed on the legislature. He was wise and wonderful,” she said.
But not quite as wonderful as Crossville doctor, David Litchford, M.D., who married Patsy in a quiet ceremony at Signal Presbyterian Church conducted by Rev. Bill Dudley on Saturday. David’s sons – Will and Mark – both graduated from McCallie, as did Ben, Patsy’s son.
Patsy said after Mike’s diagnosis he returned to the legislature, albeit briefly. “Rep. Carter was very fair, very thoughtful, and quite effective. A man like Mike will be missed.”
Procedurally, when a legislator leaves an open seat in mid-term, the county commissioners will appoint an interim legislator until a special election can be held. But because 2020 is an election year, the interim choice could be asked to serve until next year, when an August primary and a general election in November will create a fulltime representative for the state’s District 29. The district includes East Hamilton, Collegedale, some Soddy-Daisy addresses, Bakewell, and Sale Creek.
The County Commission is already faced with finding a replacement for the ever-wise Chester Bankston, who has decided to move to Florida and will resign from the commission effective on the last day of this month. Two days later the remaining eight seated commissioners will choose a successor from eight candidates who have qualified: Shannon Stephenson, Jeff Eversole, Steve Highlander, Dean Moorhouse, Tunyekia Adamson, Andrew Mullins, Rob Healy and Charles Lowery Jr.
I hope these and every elected official will remember what Mike told me during the Orange Grove crisis: “When Government cannot help its weakest, it cannot help anyone.”
“We are finding out our state officials are blaming the federal government and that’s not always true. Orange Grove is far too precious and serves so many to be mistreated so … no, that won’t happen!” I remember I bought the 5 Guys burgers we had shared and my reward? I had Mike Carter’s word. I never fretted over Orange Grove again.
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I am hardly so presumptuous to project what I do not know but, because of my faith, I believe that Saturday night, a very sick Rep. Mike Carter drifted away, and, in the twinkling of an eye, he stood before our Lord Jesus, and – what this? – The Big Book remained closed! Please, all of Mike’s short comings and misdeeds forgiven long ago. As he stood before the Master, the judge was rendered his eternity’s sentence: “Well done my good and faithful servant.
“Well done, indeed, Mike Carter.”