My friend Winton Blount III died in Montgomery, AL this morning at the age of 70.
In 1993, after working on the City Stages music festival in Birmingham, I interviewed with Winton the day after it ended in his Montgomery offices at the corner of the Boulevard and Vaughn Road. That week in Birmingham, I’d befriended Guy McCullough and the night before, he’d seen me with my golf cart piled high with coolers, hoses, extension cords and the like, trying to save equipment from walking off. When Winton and I finished talking, he said, “I want you to meet my creative political consultant,” and through the door walked Guy.
Those next 13 months of life changed me in many ways. From Guy’s influence, I bought my first laptop computer and got a PCMCIA card–a modem, that was sporting a whopping 14.4 mbps when connected to a phone line and CompuServe. Guy and I exchanged email in those days when we talked about things for the campaign.
Thanksgiving of 1993, we went on air with a 60-second commercial of Winton wanting to take back the state from the career politicians who had been at the trough of government for decades. At rallies, we even had a wooden trough on wheels that squeaked louder than anything so as to turn heads when it came down the hall.
Winton’s favorite Chik-Fil-A sandwich? One chik, no pic.
He had a driver, a former Montgomery police officer named Jim who drove around a van we traveled the state in. It even had a fax machine in it in those days. We drove from one end of the state to the other in those 13 months.
There were many days we were in the lead. Then former Gov. Fob James switched parties and entered the race. Then former state Sen. Ann Bedsole entered the race. (And just as Word did then, when you type Bedsole, it changes it to Bedsore.)
Winton came in third in the Republican primary in 1994. We lost. The final weekend, Ann Bedsole went on TV with video of her picking up a grandchild. We had been ready to do a spot showing how in 197X Ann voted for a bill that would have allowed drug peddlers, child molesters and rapists to go home for the holidays for Christmas. We’d even looked into buying the rights to “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” But Ann went soft, and negative, and it was too late to do anything about it.
We were ready election night to use Van Halen’s RIGHT NOW as a theme song to carry the campaign forward. The song still resonates in my mind. Of course, Chris Roberts at The Birmingham News was poised to also point out the song was from the album For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge, which if you take the first letters of each of the four words spells…..
I rode with Winton after the primary to some event he’d agreed to do in Dothan. Every time he saw one of his campaign signs along the road he cussed. I probably did, too.
He handed me off after his loss to work for Gov. Fob James’ campaign. I gave Gov. James my dedication while serving him, while a certain craphead woman in Birmingham accused me of being a Blount man in the heart of the James administration. Bitch. I was honest. I fought hard for my job. You still suck, Bettye.
In 1995, Winton got a number of Democrats to switch parties. He staged a rally on the steps of the Capitol and like I’d been taught to do, recorded the event. Winton gave a glowing endorsement of Fob. Afterward, I called Winton’s life-long friend and consultant, Lawrence Bear and told him what I had. That wound up being a commercial, a soft one, we ran at the end of a brutal runoff election between Fob and Winton in 1998.
There were those who wanted me to engage in rumor mongering about Winton during the 1998 campaign. I refused.
Winton and his then wife, Lucy, and I all were together again in late 1998 campaigning for Fob. It was nice to be around them. Lucy even featured me in a book she’d written about the campaign–it’s a rocky road, but there’s a rainbow in sight, was the title of the book. I still have my copy.
In 1999, Winton hired me to shoot video of the Blount Family reunion in Union Springs. I was nervous. I didn’t know how my presence would be taken. But alas, later in the evening, I was sitting in a building out back and Stuart, Winton’s only daughter, walked in and gave me the warmest of greetings, a hug, and made me feel like nothing had been changed by the previous four years. It was one of the most relieving events of my life.
It’s been since before 2001 when I left Alabama that I’ve talked to Winton. I won’t get into why. I reached out to him a couple of times in the years gone by but nothing in return happened.
Today, I’m told, he passed away in his sleep. Tonight, he will join our mutual friend, Lawrence Bear, and the former Mayor of Montgomery, Emory Folmar, no doubt in the Buck’s Pocket of Heaven. And Lordy what a party that shall be.
Lucy Dunn Blount once told me in 1993 that “Winton will be just as good a friend to you in 20 years as he is today.” That’s how I remember him. That laugh he had. The jokes he would tell–(Lord, for his opening interview with Phil Rawls of the AP in 1993, Winton told a joke about the Fugawee Indians and I almost fainted. If you don’t know it, a lone tribe of Indians used to wander the Great Plains and every once in a while they’d pop their heads up from the corn and look around and say, ‘Where the fugawee?!'” Phil was a deacon in his church….)
He didn’t die a rich man from the accounts I’m hearing. Not of earthly wealth, but I certainly admired him for what he tried to do to continue to make positive changes in Alabama and for that, to me, that makes him one of the richest people I could ever hope to know. He will be missed and my heart is filled with sadness.
One last thought. In the 1990s, Winton used to have the National Geographic map of the universe at the top of this post on his conference room wall. He called it his “It Just Doesn’t Matter” picture. It shows where we are in the scheme of things in the universe. He said when people tried to get him down about life’s problems he referred to this picture because a problem compared to the immensity of the universe … It just really isn’t going to matter in the long run. Such a great thought to keep in mind.