Loran Smith: UGA’s Powell Moore rode ‘Smalltown USA’ roots to serve nation
WASHINGTON — When Powell Moore was coming along in Milledgeville, the son of a highly regarded newspaper editor, the thing that meant the most to him was his daddy’s friendship with Georgia football coach Wallace Butts.
This meant that the Bulldog headliner often returned to his hometown to visit his boyhood friend, which also meant that Powell got to tag along for social meetings (the forerunner of town hall gatherings) and enjoy eavesdropping on the clever and insightful musings of Butts, a master storyteller.
It also meant that Powell, in his precocious years, when he was in knee pants, became the envy of the town — a kid who got to see Georgia play between the hedges. Powell was there in 1946 when the big faceoff between Charley Trippi and Alabama’s Harry Gilmer took place between the hedges. It was a matchup for the ages, two of the greatest college players in history of the Southeastern Conference — seeking one-upmanship. The record confirms it was a red letter day for Trippi and the Bulldogs.
Powell very well could swap “recollections” and details over a beer with Trippi, For Powell, this was one of his memorable highlights in his “yesteryear portfolio.”
Powell enjoyed his time between the hedges, sitting in Aisle 27, on the 50-yard line, as a kid, but gravitated comfortably to the student section when he enrolled in Athens. Imbued with the Georgia tradition(s), his heart strings still murmur when the band plays, “Glory to ole Georgia.”
In recent months, Powell was able to relive his campus years, interacting with old friends and classmates while a guest of the Grady College of Journalism, the Russell Library and the Vinson Institute, spending time with students and serving voluntarily as a mentor for those interested in public affairs and a career in Washington.
Who better for this assignment than this native Georgian whose distinguished career included time in the White House during the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations?
After nearly a month in Athens, he said with the deepest of humility over a glass of wine at the Georgia Center: “I recognize that the value of my degree from UGA is constantly rising. I am impressed with the changes that have occurred while retaining its tradition. Every time I come back to campus, I find myself overwhelmed.
“I also find an international dimension which did not exist when I was here. This is very impressive when you consider the implications of our shrinking world and our globalized economy.”
Powell loved growing up in “Smalltown USA.” He treasured his college years, having matriculated at the University of Georgia Henry Grady School of Journalism. At the outset, he was attracted to the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his editor-father.
A circumstance came about that would alter his viewpoint. Following graduation and military duty (he was stationed in Baumholder, Germany in the fall of 1959 and went to the officers club and learned from the tabloid, “Stars and Stripes,” that Georgia had won the SEC title by beating Auburn 14-13) he became the Press Secretary to Senator Richard B. Russell.
He thought that he would return home after that prestigious assignment he held from 1966-1971, but he kept getting offers he couldn’t refuse. His life on the Potomac has not been negative in any respect. He became immersed in official Washington business and enjoyed being on the fringes of the seat of power. However, he never forgot where he came from.
Unfortunately, he saw many men lose their humility as their position of influence grew. He also found remarkable leadership among certain politicians in high places. Senator Russell, a selfless man, imbued with exceptional modesty, was one of them.
The thing Powell learned that many politicians seemed not to master is that those who drink that heady wine (in Washington it is generally known as Potomac fever) more often than not, shoot themselves in the foot.
“While I have been involved with some rare moments and have rubbed shoulders with some very impressive and accomplished men and women, I have tried to avoid becoming impressed. You come here fueled with a desire to do a good job in government and you can either make a contribution or you can ruin your life and career with a bad decision and a bad headline.”
What would you expect from a country boy who has always kept himself grounded in the humility and perspective he learned from a small town newspaper publisher?