Monday, August 21, 2006

"He was a good 'un"

This morning I learned via a radio report (later confirmed by a telephone call) of the death of Larry Trail, a former Tennessee state senator who hailed from Rutherford and Cannon counties. While I've experienced my fair share of having to deal with the death of friends, hearing about Larry's passing hit me a bit harder than most.
Some years ago I was introduced to Larry by a mutual friend. At that time, Larry was in need of some political advice as he pondered a first time run for an open state senate seat. We bonded from the get go - a political hack and a pig-headed, straight talking, tenacious candidate.
The traits I respected the most in Larry were traits that drove most people around him nuts. He relished a good argument. In the heat of a campaign, he would spend a lot of time (some said too much time) questioning all of the advice he was being given. Not because he believed he was any smarter, but because Larry was the kind of guy who wasn't about to buy into anything unless he understood it (and even then, he still might not buy it). If you planned on getting Larry the candidate to embrace a political strategy, you better damn well have done your homework. Same held true for Larry the state senator. Just ask lobbyists or senate leadership what they remember most about Larry. What you'll hear is that Larry had an annoying tendacy to insist on reading and understanding every word of every piece of legislation he was asked to vote on. He even invited me once to put the word out to all my lobbyist friends that they better not ask him for his vote unless they can make a good case for it. Larry also didn't mind ruffling feathers in committee hearings by asking tough, pointed (and often leading) questions of important people regardless of their standing.
While there were plenty of political and policy points over which Larry and I disagreed, there was so much more to Larry as a person that I liked. He respected and appreciated the law and enjoyed finding ways to use it or change it to help average working people. He loved his wife. He had a hearty laugh (though careful not to have one at someone's expense). And most important to me on a personal level, he found a way to dis-engage from all the craziness by losing himself in mundane chores on his farm in Cannon County. For all his complaining about not enough time in a day, Larry always perked up a bit when he talked carving out time on his farm.
While sadly it was a farm accident that ultimately caused Larry's death (he was in a serious tractor mishap at the age of 12 that cost him the partial use of one of his hands and caused him severe internal scarring that didn't heal right), I suspect it was his connection to his farm throughout his life that gave him the balance he needed when the pressures of running a law practice, fighting legislative battles, and dealing with the rough and tumble of politics got to him.
Finding balance in life and having that special place to get away from all the craziness is something I still seek most days.
People like Larry - the candidate or the state senator - are hard to find in and around politics these days. His star, though characterized by some as more of a shooting star at legislative plaza, burned undeniably bright while he served in office.
It was an honor and a privilege for me to have known Larry and to have worked with him briefly.
Our mutual friend summed up Larry best in our call this morning - "he was a good 'un."