Callaway serves state, nation with dignity and honor

Political considerations aside, there could hardly be a more worthy choice of a contemporary Georgian to be honored by the state House of Representatives than Howard "Bo" Callaway.

With Callaway's 85th birthday just days away, Rep. Kip Smith, R-Pine Mountain, sponsored a resolution recognizing this extraordinary man's career.

As well he might. Bo Callaway is soldier, statesman, businessman and public servant. He earned the Combat Infantry Badge as a platoon leader in Korea, and later shared his fighting skills and knowledge as an instructor at Fort Benning.

Years later he would take his military knowledge to Washington as secretary of the Army, service for which the Pentagon honored him with the Medal of Distinguished Public Service.

And of course, he is a familiar figure in this area as the longtime president and CEO of Callaway Gardens, and is Chairman Emeritus of the Ida Cason Callaway Foundation.

Smith called Callaway "a hero to the Republican Party in the state of Georgia," and he is undoubtedly that. But his political significance goes well beyond purely partisan considerations. Bo Callaway can legitimately be considered the father of the two-party system in Georgia.

He should have been governor. Almost 40 years before Sonny Perdue broke the Democrats' century-and-a-half hold on the state's top office, Callaway won the popular vote in the 1966 election. But many Georgia Democrats, horrified that the party nominee was the gleefully racist Lester Maddox, cast their votes for write-in candidate Ellis Arnall, thus splitting the vote and denying Callaway a majority.

Under Georgia law, that threw the decision into the hands of the Democrat-dominated General Assembly, which stuck to the party line and opted for Maddox -- and the heaping helping of national ridicule the new governor brought with him.

It can only be imagined what a Bo Callaway governorship in the 1960s might have meant, and not just in terms of the historic achievement of being the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Only a few years after the shameless race-baiting administrations of Herman Talmadge and Marvin Griffin, Callaway would almost certainly have given Georgia both the image and the reality of enlightened, intelligent leadership.

Characteristically, Callaway didn't dwell on the political shenanigans that denied him the state's highest office, and went on to other fields of private success and public service.

That comes as no surprise to anybody who has had the opportunity to talk with him; he has that rare gift, desperately needed in these bitterly divided times, of being able to disagree without being disagreeable.

The Georgia Republican Party has every reason to admire and respect -- and, ideally, to emulate -- the service, style and substance of Bo Callaway. So does every other Georgian.