PINE MOUNTAIN, Ga. — Howard “Bo” Callaway’s remarkable story of victory and defeat came to an end Wednesday afternoon in a packed Catholic church across a two-lane highway from the gardens his family has nurtured for more than 60 years.
Callaway, a lifelong Episcopalian, converted to the Catholic faith in his final year. In a wheelchair because of a cerebral hemorrhage that almost killed him in June 2012, Callaway attended Saturday night mass most weeks at Christ the King, a few hundred yards from the Callaway Gardens entrance.
“He loved it here,” Edward Callaway said of his father’s time in the church.
Father John R. Madden — Irish to the core — became Callaway’s priest and friend. Madden told a story of seeing Callaway just after the hemorrhage nearly killed him almost two years ago.
“I thought he was gone,” Madden said. “I wondered why he wasn’t gone.
Now, I know. He had two years left, and he did a lot. He loved his family more. He loved his God more. He became truly humble and meek.”
More than 500 family, friends, military leaders, business executives and politicians from U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss to county commissioners gathered to remember a former congressman, West Point graduate, Secretary of the Army, Republican leader and businessman. Callaway died Saturday.
It was Edward Callaway who put his father’s life — and death — in focus. An active man who often walked the gardens and had a lifelong love affair with baseball, Callaway lost his speech and his ability to swallow when he was stricken.
“The last two years were a metaphor for his life,” Edward Callaway said. “He got back to Columbus and he couldn’t swallow and could only mumble. For someone who loved to break bread and loved people, it was painful not to be able to eat or speak.”
Bo Callaway vowed to regain his speech and learn to swallow again, tasks doctors said would be extremely difficult. In February, he regained some of the abilities the hemorrhage robbed from him.
“That was the essence of my father,” Edward Callaway said. “Many times after crushing defeats, he picked himself up.”
Newt Gingrich, who said he was honored to be asked to speak about Callaway’s political influence, defined Callaway’s life another way. “Bo never had adversity,” Gingrich said. “He had events. And some were better than others.”
Much like the family gardens that were carved out of thousands of acres of Harris County forest, Callaway walked a political path in the 1960s that had not been cleared. From 1964 to 1966, Callaway experienced the victory and loss that became part of his life.
In 1964, Callaway was elected the first Republican congressman from Georgia in a century. Newt Gingrich, still three decades away from leading the Republican takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives, met Callaway for the first time that year.
Gingrich, who first visited Callaway Gardens on his Baker High School senior trip, was an Emory student when he saw Callaway debate Lt. Gov. Garland Byrd in 1964 when the two men were competing for the Third Congressional District seat. Callaway was the Republican and Byrd was the Democrat. At the top of that ticket that year was the presidential race between President Lyndon Johnson and Republican Barry Goldwater.
“Twenty-two times in a 30-minute debate, Bo asked Lt. Gov. Byrd, ‘Are you going to vote for Goldwater or Johnson?’” Gingrich said.
Two years later, Callaway was knocking on the door of the Georgia governor’s mansion. He won the popular vote, but was 3,000 votes short of a majority. That threw the race into the Democratic-controlled General Assembly. In what Gingrich called “a ruthlessly partisan move, in which the Democrats basically stole the governorship,” Callaway lost to segregationist Lester Maddox.
That legislative vote altered not only Georgia history, but U.S. history, Gingrich said.
“The odds are if Bo Callaway had become governor, the first president from Georgia would not have been Jimmy Carter,” Gingrich said. “It would have been Bo Callaway.”
Edward Callaway talked of “the crushing defeat” his father suffered in the governor’s race.
“He just was a little early,” Edward Callaway said.
It was 36 years later before Sonny Perdue would become Georgia’s first modern Republican governor.
Callaway moved to Colorado and purchased a ski resort, but he stayed active in politics. He was later appointed secretary of the Army and served under Presidents Nixon and Ford.
During his tenure, Callaway was responsible for the conversion to the all-volunteer military. Norman R. Augustine, who was under secretary of the Army with Callaway and a close friend for 41 years, remembered that conversion — and Callaway’s character during it.
“He was a man of uncompromising integrity,” Augustine said. “... I remember we would say we were going to ‘try’ and build a volunteer Army. He would always correct us and say, ‘We will build a volunteer Army.’ ... Bo set out not only to create a new Army, but to make it better than it ever was.”
Callaway’s Army roots started at West Point and continued in service during the Korean War. Gingrich said Callaway did his alma mater proud. “Bo was the personification of what West Point wished its graduates could be in civilian life,” Gingrich said.
The U.S. Army had a large presence at Callaway’s funeral. Maj. Gen. H.R. McMaster, commanding general at Fort Benning, read the story of Judah from the Second Book of Maccabees.
Uniformed representatives from the armies of Canada, Australia, Italy, France and Germany showed up to pay respects.
At the end of the nearly two-hour Mass, Fort Benning soldiers honored Callaway and his service as secretary of the Army with 19 cannon shots. The smoke from those blasts drifted toward Callaway Gardens.
As taps played, six Army Rangers carried the flag-draped casket down a line of more than 50 officers and slid it into a hearse that had Army seals on either side.
Augustine, who met Callaway during their time in the Pentagon, said his friend put service first.
“Bo’s alphabet only had 25 letters,” Augustine said. “The letter ‘I’ was conspicuously missing.”
Callaway was interred in a private service on family land. He was laid to rest in a plot near his parents, wife Beth, his brother and sister.