Richard Hyatt

Richard Hyatt: Good advice from a man named Red

Red McDaniel and A.J. McClung could have taken their comedy act on the road, but for 28 years they performed on Tuesday mornings at Columbus Council.

Every week it was two old jocks going mano a mano one more time. They were physical about it too, nudging each other and grabbing the other man's shoulder while exchanging irreverent comments that some would consider slander.

Red and Mac didn't see it that way. This was the way a couple of recycled football players said they loved each other, and after Red McDaniel's death last Monday I thought of the deep affection those captivating characters had for one another.

It came out in 2002. Bending the rules, Columbus Council was renaming Memorial Stadium for McClung despite a law that said no public facility could carry the name of a living person.

People waited for the mayor pro tem under the façade. When he arrived, Mac was gaunt and frail. He would be dead in four months and he was in a wheelchair. Everyone paid homage to him and so did Red, who struck up a conversation about playing football on that worn-out turf.

"I still hold the record for the longest pass completed in that stadium. It was 93 yards in 1949 against Moultrie," Red said, replaying every nuance of the pass play. Even in his wheelchair, Mac reared back and remembered playing there as a fullback at Tuskegee Institute.

When McClung died, Red offered a glimpse into their relationship. His story involved Mayor J.R. Allen, the man that lured both of them into public service.

"Mac told me one time that J.R. was the first white man who ever told him he loved him. I asked him if I could be No. 2," Red said.

People also loved Red McDaniel. Council meetings are often as boring as an oil change, but Red could bring them to life. His 38 years of service are a lesson to those who follow him.

The Rev. Jimmy Elder said in his eulogy Friday that "Red lived for the future." And so he did, despite his unique gift of reminding city government where it had been.

Elder remembered a TV reporter introducing her replacement to Red. "He's been serving since Reconstruction," she said. Maybe he did, but she meant to say consolidation. When a colleague chided him for dozing off during a meeting, Red said if they would talk about something interesting he would stay awake.

Red was the last of the promising young men recruited to government by J.R. Allen in 1968. Red always called the mayor "Blue," and the late mayor's son Stan has a cherished photo of his father teeing off on opening day at the Bull Creek Golf Course. Standing in the background was a youthful Red McDaniel.

How appropriate, because for half a century Red McDaniel was in the background of this city's political history. Though he was there for major moments, Red was content to fix potholes or take care of a neighbor's drainage problems.

Elder called him "The Mayor of Good Will." He loved his wife, his family, his dog, his truck and he loved this community.

Some day soon, someone will take his council seat and that person's oath of office should include a challenge Red McDaniel made two years ago in a letter he wrote to students at Columbus High School: "Remember to enjoy your life, have fun, and always give back to your community!"

-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at hyatt31906@knology.net.

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