Now that Fannie Lee Crowe Owen has completed her earthly journey and is with the Lord she loved and served so well, I can write about a question I have been asked many times.
Her son, Naman Crowe, is a friend of many years, and it is a well-known fact of local history that he ran against me when I was seeking my third term as county executive (now called "county mayor").
Couple that with the fact that the late County Commissioner Jack Mayfield and I recaptured a friendship that we lost in some bitter political fights, and add to it several more similar incidents and you can understand why people ask: "Why do you make up with so many old political opponents?"
The simplest answer is really true: I much prefer to be someone's friend than enemy. But there are even better reasons.
One is that we seldom learn much from people who always agree with us. The first thing I said to people I hired for department head jobs was, "When I am right on an issue, I expect your complete loyalty. If you think I am wrong and don't tell me and I get into hot water, I will probably fire you. I want honest disagreement and criticism."
My staff meetings sometimes resembled free-for-alls. I often said, "I've told my people to disagree with me, and it's clear that I have seriously overtrained them!"
Naman and I disagreed on many issues during the campaign but agreed on others. The important thing is that, whether you agree or disagree, he will make you think. If I made a list of my friends and placed it next to the names of those who make me think, I would write "priceless."
Another priceless thing that happens when I have lunch and talk with Naman is that he gives me a new way to view something. It's amazing how different a picture looks when you put it in a new frame.
I separate my time with Fannie Lee into the times she knew me and the times she didn't. When she knew me and we'd return from lunch, Naman would say, "Why don't you come in and sing a few gospel songs for Mama?" and I would. She would smile like an angel, and there have been times I thought she honestly was. She always imparted a powerful charge to me. She told me the two songs she wanted me to sing at her funeral and I sang them last week.
When her health deteriorated and she didn't seem to know me, I went on talking to her and singing to her. It reminds me of a favorite story that may lift someone who visits a loved one who doesn't seem to know them.
A young man visited his mother in a home for Alzheimer's patients. He would sit on the edge of the bed and tell her all the family news, help feed her and always give her a little massage.
One day a bystander stopped him as he was leaving and said, "That lady doesn't know you nor understand a thing you are saying. Why do you keep coming here and doing it?"
The son said, "It's true she doesn't seem to know me. But the important thing is, I know her."