Newt Gingrich came to say a few words last Wednesday afternoon at the funeral mass of Howard "Bo" Callaway.
When the former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was done, he had likely outlined his next book — and given credit for a revolution to his friend and longtime mentor.
Much like the gardens that carry the family name, Bo Callaway was a man of the seasons. He was many things — a son of influence and privilege, West Point graduate, U.S. Congressman, nearly a governor, Secretary of the Army, philanthropist, environmentalist, presidential campaign manager and businessman — in the different seasons of his 86-year journey.
But one thing he was always — even to the end — was a Republican. And that is the intersection at which Callaway and Gingrich met, formed a lasting bond and changed the course of history.
"Bo helped me through the ’80s," Gingrich told the mourners packed into a wood and stone Catholic church next to Callaway Gardens.
Callaway chaired and backed GOPAC, an organzation that found and trained Republican candidates for state and local offices. By 1994, many of those Republicans were ready for the national stage and a role in the Republican control of the U.S. House.
"Without this, we never create the Republican majority," Gingrich said. "Republicans have held the House 16 of the last 20 years, and will likely hold it the next 20 years."
If Gingrich is the father of this movement — Bo Callaway is the grandfather.
Gingrich was the front guy for GOPAC. He was loud and aiming for the mountain top, building a coalition — and enemies — the entire climb. Callaway, who took over the organization founded by Deleware Gov. Pierre duPont, was in the background working the funders.
"He kept saying, this is going to work — just write the check," Gingrich said.
With the money beginning to fall into place, Gingrich, Callaway and the others plotting the Republican coup, met in the summer of 1989 at a remote place called the North Pole Basin, a rugged, isolated Rocky Mountain peak owned at the time by Callaway.
"We spent 18 days planing the 1994 Contact with America," Gingrich said. But it wasn’t just the political strategy that Gingrich recalled. He remembered 30-minute mountain hikes with Callaway.
They walked, they talked and they plotted.
Gingrich, a prolific author, said the North Pole Basin summit may be the subject of his next book.
The story Gingrich told at Callaway’s funeral left one man shaking his head.
U.S. Sen. Saxby Chambliss, a Moultrie Republican, will be retiring this year after eight years in the House and 12 years in the Senate.
He was one of those Republicans swept into power — "Class of ’94," he says with some pride.
Chambliss listened with great interest to Gingrich’s eulogy.
When it was over, Chambliss was asked about Callaway’s subtle and largely unnoticed role in the 1994 Republican takeover of the House.
"I had never heard that story before," Chambliss said. "There is no doubt, if it wasn’t for Bo Callaway, I would not be where I am today."
Nicely put, Senator. You are certainly not alone.