Bo's legacies

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerMarch 22, 2014 

Howard "Bo" Callaway died in March just as the azaleas and dogwoods were beginning to bloom in the great gardens which were the legacy he and his father bequeathed to Georgia and the world.

Spring brings out the best in Callaway Gardens, but Howard Callaway was a man for all seasons: a soldiers, a business leader, a statesman and an environmentalist, a resort visionary, almost Georgia's governor … and almost president of the United States.

Callaway lived a full life in his 86 years, but he would have been the first to say there were some loose ends.

Callaway was born into a successful family and made it more successful. His grandfather founded and developed Callaway textile mills, which became the largest employer in West Georgia. His father took the mills to another level before retiring at 43 to pursue his second and third careers as a farmer and gardener on a grand scale.

Bo Callaway, born in LaGrange and raised in Harris County, assumed leadership of his father's dream of "creating the most beautiful place on earth since the Garden of Eden" when he was just 26, a graduate of West Point Military Academy and a veteran of the Korean War.

Bo and Cason worked together on the Gardens and the resort until Cason's death in 1961. His father had planned a garden where people could picnic and enjoy the scenery. Bo envisioned a full-scale resort where they could spend the night or a week.

Cason planned the gardens and five lakes, with a few overnight rooms. Bo's first vision was the three golf courses, which for years were among the finest in Georgia, and the site of a PGA tournament; a 150-room inn with restaurants and entertainment.

Bo hired Hal Northrop as his general manager in 1969 and Northrop became his essential onsite manager during Bo's historic political career. The Sibley Horticultural Center and the Day Butterfly Center were additions that created a major resort and environmental preserve.

By then Callaway had also become a trailblazing political force in Georgia and the nation. In 1964 he was the first Republican congressman elected from Georgia since Reconstruction. By 1966 he was the Republican candidate for governor and received the most votes in the general election, but failed to get the 50 percent then required by Georgia for election. In all but four states he would have been the uncontested winner, but an 1804 Georgia law stipulated that if no candidate had a majority of the popular votes the General Assembly would elect from the two candidates with the most votes.

Callaway contested the law all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld the 1804 law bya 4-3 vote, with Justice Hugo Black of Alabama casting the deciding vote.

Lester Maddox, the Democratic candidate, was elected governor by the heavily Democratic General Assembly. Callaway accepted the verdict and 36 years passed before another Republican got as many votes for governor.

Callaway was Richard Nixon's Southern campaign manager in 1968 and almost certainly would have been Nixon's choice as running mate instead of Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew if Callaway had been elected in 1966. Nixon wanted a Southern running mate, but didn't know Agnew well. That's how close Callaway came to being president.

Nixon did name him secretary of the Army in 1971, and Callaway had the task of ending the draft and creating the volunteer army the nation has today.

He then served as President Gerald Ford's campaign manager in the early primaries of 1976, but had to resign due to unfounded charges against him concerning development of the Crested Butte Ski Resort in Colorado.

Callaway went on to develop Crested Butte into a successful winter resort and was the state Republican chairman in Colorado after moving there in 1977. Ironically, he was denied nomination to the U.S. Senate from Colorado in a four-way race in which he received 30.5 percent of the vote, while his chief opponent got 31 percent.

He returned to Georgia in 1993 and again took charge of Callaway Gardens while also heading the GOPAC political organization which a fellow Georgian, Newt Gingrich, used to engineer the Republican congressional landslide of 1994.

Callaway helped Sonny Perdue's two campaigns for governor and saw his long efforts to make Georgia a Republican Party state come to reality. At the same time, he dealt with the economic challenge facing all resorts in the last 10 years.

He suffered a stroke in 2012 and never regained his full strength. But what a life he lived. He has a number of important legacies, but the main one is the unique gardens, beach and nature preserve just off U.S. 27 between Columbus and LaGrange.

Bo's father told him to "hang the picture

a little higher on the wall so more people can see it."

Bo hung the picture higher and built a resort that attracted more people to see it than his father could ever have imagined.

Millard Grimes, a veteran Georgia journalist, was editor of the Columbus Ledger from 1961-69 and founder of the Phenix Citizen. He is author of "The Last Linotype: The Story of Georgia and Its Newspapers Since World War II." A profile of Grimes and his career can be found in the New Georgia Encyclopedia, www.georgiaencyclopedia.org.

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