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As Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon in the summer of 1969, he famously said, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." An exciting event in our local history also happened that summer. Soddy-Daisy, our state's newest municipality, elected its first commissioners, who then elected Max Orr as first mayor. Max was quoted on the front page of The Chattanooga Times, "We are not ready to annex the city of Chattanooga, yet!" He served two terms as mayor and 15 years afterwards on the city planning commission. We can learn a lot from his service and our own citizen responsibilities.

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Roger Smith

Max is a natural leader who was well prepared from his life experiences. He was president of the Class of 1943 at Soddy-Daisy High School and excelled in football, basketball and baseball. He was drafted during World War II, and although he desired a pilot slot, the Army Air Force needed navigators. Max successfully completed the rigorous training and safely guided his B-24 bomber crew through many difficult combat missions in the Pacific theater.

After the war, he and Bobbie, his high school sweetheart, were married, and Max entered the construction field. He held many positions in construction management and headed his own company. Additionally, he gained invaluable leadership skills through positions in his church. Most of all, Max built a reputation as a dependable and compassionate neighbor and an honest and hard-working businessman.

Max and his fellow commissioners, also proven leaders within the community, were often overwhelmed as they attempted to build a city with very little infrastructure in place. Max and Bobbie wistfully recall those early days. There was so much to do, yet so little time and money to accomplish everything required: police, road maintenance, sewer systems, water systems, an emergency medical response team (and the associated communications network), business license administration and a plethora of other demands. Bobbie remembers they had no official stationary, so she purchased stationary from a business supply store using their own money.

It is said that all politics are local. Even today, with our bloated federal bureaucracy, politics eventually sift down to the local level. Max could write a primer on the proper relationship between local government officials and their constituents. Through patience, hard work and honesty, he and his fellow commissioners gained the trust and confidence of their neighbors, friends and fellow citizens. They worked with TVA to acquire land for athletic fields, and they coordinated with the county to establish new schools. They designated space for future parks and public use areas. They organized functional oversight authorities for police, water, fire and emergency response teams. They hired a small staff to manage administrative functions.

There are many lessons we, as citizens, can learn from their experience. First, we should not base our voting decision on a (D) or (R) next to the candidate's name on the ballot. If we know nothing more than his or her party affiliation, we know nothing about the person. Second, what is the candidate's record in the community — has he or she run a business, served the public, managed a philanthropic project, or served in leadership positions in a church or community? Third, has the candidate been a divisive or unifying force in the community? Finally, where does the candidate stand on issues that are important to you: education, green space, utilities, pollution or roads?

If we are not willing to learn about the leaders we elect in our communities or to step up when we are needed, we should not complain. Fifty years ago, Armstrong's step onto the moon was "small," but in our little corner of the universe, Max and his fellow commissioners took a "giant leap" for our community. Thanks for the high bar you set. May we learn from your example.

Roger Smith, a local author, is a frequent contributor to the Times Free Press.

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