On Winton Blount III

Feb 9, 2015 by

My friend Winton Blount III died in Montgomery, AL this morning at the age of 70.

imageIn 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.


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April 27, 2011 in Alabama – One Of The Worst Tornado Outbreaks Ever

Apr 27, 2014 by

April 27, 2011 in Alabama – One Of The Worst Tornado Outbreaks Ever

I was in Huntsville, AL for April 27, 2011, one of the worst tornado outbreaks ever recorded in the state with 247 killed in 62 storms. I never will forget that day as long as I live, for I thought at one point, it was going to be my last.

Smithville Tornado April 27th 2011 095

Smithville Tornado April 27th 2011 095 (Photo credit: Tales from the South)

During the mid 1990s, I worked in the Governor’s Office of Gov. Fob James. His lead bodyguard, State Trooper Tom Taylor, became a life-long friend of mine. It was during the spring of 2011 that I was working with a client in Huntsville, where Tom, wife Karen and the rest of the Taylors returned to after leaving the administration in January 1999. I was staying with them north of Rocket City in a little community called New Market.

That morning, I’d gone into the city to work with friend and colleague, John Hornbuckle. Around 9 a.m. that morning we heard of a tornado warning just northwest of the offices and gave chase, but it was moving too fast to catch up to. We went back to the office. But what I didn’t know was how bad the storm had been when it went over the Taylor’s house. They had downed trees. It was something of a mess.

Now having been in Texas for a decade and away from Montgomery, Alabama where I’d spent almost 20 years of life and 10 of them working in or around the Governor’s Office, I’d grown unfamiliar with Alabama weather. While in office with former Gov. Guy Hunt and Gov. James I remembered the Airport Road deaths from tornadoes at rush hour in the late 1980s and then I still have photos somewhere of me, Gov. James and Trooper Taylor walking through the damages of the F5 tornado that hit west of Birmingham in April 1998, but I had no idea how the rest of the day was going to go.

Here in North Texas, our weather people are good at hyping the weather, they’re just not very good at accuracy. And like most talk in Texas about things being bigger – the rivalry between Texas and OU, the severity of storms, etc. I’d grown accustomed to not getting too serious about dire weather predictions after a decade of blown North Texas forecasts. Usually, like even this morning in DFW, a line of storms comes thru and the event is over.

April 27, 2011

But that didn’t happen in Alabama on April 27. I left John at the office about 11 a.m. to go to the Taylor’s because they had downed trees and I was going to go help. Well, by the time I got there, Tom had already returned, Karen was there, the kids were out of school, (It was a week day) and word was around 12:30 p.m. that we were all headed from there to a shelter close by.

RadarScope App

It was at this time that Tom told me about and shared with me the best app for iPhone I’ve come to use yet–RADARSCOPE. It gives amazingly accurate and up-to-date radar images. Previously I’d been using the WeatherUnderground.com site. In the past few weeks, they have made changes to the site that to me make navigating it a complexity and in times of a storm, I just want to see what the radar looks like, the color in the formations, how fast it’s moving and I don’t need it down to the street level.

To their credit, on Twitter, WeatherUnderground asked me for feedback, but I have to say, I’m not getting anything near with them what I’m getting on my iOS devices in RadarScope.

The Afternoon of April 27, 2011 in Huntsville, AL

We got to Tom’s brother’s house. It had a storm shelter in the basement and a ramp around back where one could seek shelter. Being north of Huntsville in New Market, I had no idea that we had moved further into the path of the storms that would knock out areas to the northeast of Decatur and south of my Dad’s birthplace, Athens.

As I recall that day, we endured SEVEN tornado warnings. One nearly right after the other. It was harrowing.

Around 5 p.m. Karen, Tom and I thought things were going to die down enough for us to get out and go get something to eat. There’s a great Mexican place just across the Tennessee border we’d talked about going to. But before going north, we went back to their house. And then …

The Drive Back To The Bunker

When we realized another ferocious storm was coming, we left Tom and Karen’s house headed the two or three miles back to the bunker we’d been in. But by then the storm was upon us. There were torrential rains. The road ahead at one point headed due west was overflowing with rushing water. We were in a Jeep with a plastic-type lid. It began to hail and every stone that hit the car sounded like a rock in that blinding rain. We made a right turn to go north. More rain. More wind. And when there’s hail, there’s usually something spinning at high speeds, a tornado, around it.

As we drove thru this, I began to pray harder than ever before. Now I’d ridden thru hurricanes coming ashore and that kind of thing with the governor and Tom before, but this was different. We were being tossed and banged. We could barely see and the last thing we needed to do was stop because we surely would have met tragedy.

I could see off to the right of the road from the front passenger seat. Trees were falling to our sides. Trees were falling on the roads.  I just knew we were about to be off to the right of the road in a ditch.

The storm didn’t let up the entire ride over to Tom’s brother’s house. But by the grace of God, we made it.

The Rest of Alabama

That day, 62 tornadoes dropped to the ground in Alabama and 247 people met death’s door, a fate I thought at several points we were certain to join them in.

Because of the storms, the power in Huntsville and most of North Alabama was out for nearly a week. By early morning, Karen, Tom and I had ventured out to see Highway 231 a log jam in both directions. Traffic lights were out. People were seeking food, gas and ice. Miraculously, I found an open gas station about a mile from the Taylor’s house and once topped off, headed to see my Mom in Montgomery until things were restored.

All across the state, people were mourning the loss of family and friends.

I was lucky to have survived that day. I know it was by God’s will that I didn’t die because he had some other mission for me to fulfill. It’s days like today I reflect on whether or not I’m meeting him and his purpose. Today’s sermon in church was about stopping things we shouldn’t be doing and getting focused on God; letting Him take over and putting the things holding us all back onto the Lord and dealing with them, no longer ignoring them.

Finding Your Purpose

Have you found your purpose? Do you know why God has led you to where you are now? More on that to come, but I encourage you today to remember those who perished this day just three years ago. Bless you and bless them.  Radar right now is showing a mass of storms in Mississippi and they’re marching toward Alabama like General Sherman on Atlanta. Let us pray that things go okay today. History doesn’t need a repeat.


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When God Redefines The Possible Book for iPad on iBookstore

Jun 3, 2013 by

When God Redefines The Possible Book for iPad on iBookstore


 ‘When God Redefines The Possible’ Now Available AT WGRTP.com

MONTGOMERY, AL—Former Senior Minister of Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery, John Ed Mathison, is making history again. This time, he’s teamed up with a former Alabama governor’s press secretary to release an innovative, interactive book exclusively for the iPad that will change how people around the world follow a daily devotional or use social media to hold “Sunday School classes worldwide.”

When God Redefines The Possible

When God Redefines The Possible, John Ed Mathison’s book for iPad.

Mathison recently released When God Redefines The Possible on Apple’s iBookstore, a title he published in paperback in November. The new work, complete with 22 videos, interactive puzzles, quizzes and Bible references can be used on the more than 100 million iPad and iPad mini devices in use around the world.

The book can be downloaded from the iBookstore by visiting WGRTP.com.

Production began in January with Claxton Creative, LLC of Dallas, led by Donald J. Claxton, former the former press secretary of Gov. Fob James and assistant press secretary to former Gov. Guy Hunt.

“We have taken a book printed in black and white and brought it to life with short video clips in multiple chapters that are designed to help readers prepare their minds for the text that follows by asking some important questions or giving some insight about what they’re about to read,” Mathison said. “With the rapid adoption of iPads in schools all across Montgomery and around the world, this is the new type of curriculum tool that readers young and old are finding more and more engaging and enriching in their study.

“It only makes sense to apply this same technology to something like a daily devotional where people can use these technological advances to draw closer to God and use social media to draw closer to other believers and non-believers around the world,” Mathison said.

Mathison’s book, which is 109-pages in print, expanded to 192 pages on the iPad and contains more than 50 chapters of colorful and important ministry lessons and encourages readers to see that God is still doing miracles, even in today’s turbulent times.

The videos, produced by another former aide to Gov. Hunt, Stacey Rimer Stakely, and shot at Frazer by Matthew Gamble, feature Mathison talking about healthy eating, God doing things in people’s lives they could not have anticipated, and even references to his late father, Si Mathison.

“John Ed Mathison has been a leader in ministry for almost 50 years and the exciting thing about this book for iPad is that it proves he’s still a leader in ministry even though he’s been retired from Frazer for a couple of years now,” Claxton said. “We have worked with him to produce a new tool that uses the latest in technology to help spread the word of God. That, in and of itself, is an example of God redefining the possible, as the technology for this didn’t even exist 17 months ago.”

Claxton said versions for readers using Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook are near completion as well.

“John Ed’s use of digital books will make his work available to anyone in the world with a computer, tablet or smartphone,” Claxton said.

John Ed, who served 36 years as Senior Minister of Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery, said he is excited to begin this new phase of his ministry.

“I have said before that ‘it is easy to have a Gutenberg mentality when we live in a Google reality.’ and taking converting my writings and teachings into a digital format so that people around the world can share and interact with each other through the social media tools and interactivity functions within the book is an example of where ministry must grow in order to reach those needing and yearning to hear the word of God,” Mathison said. “I’m excited for the potentials this brings for ministry. God really has redefined the possible.”

Claxton is no stranger to innovation and change. He was dubbed as the “foremost student iconoclast” in Dr. John Fair’s 1990 book about Auburn University at Montgomery’s first 20 years. In July 1994, he made candidate Fob James the first statewide candidate in Alabama to have a published email address. In March of 1995, he began writing the original pages for the state of Alabama’s website, which was launched and featured as the lead story in the Montgomery Advertiser in August 1995.  In 2001 he became the communications director for the Dallas Independent School District, then the 12th largest school district in the nation and helped pass the largest education bond program in Texas history—a $1.37 billion program. In 2012, his company began producing books for the iPad, including Dr. Mark Van Stone’s interactive text 2012: Science & Prophecy of the Ancient Maya and There’s A Zombie In My Treehouse by Ken Plume, John Robinson and Len Peralta of Atlanta. The company also has begun production on a book for Learning Forward, one of the largest professional development organizations in the world for schoolteachers.

Claxton Creative, LLC

Claxton Creative is a Dallas-based full-service public relations firm focused on the development of interactive, multi-touch publications for mobile devices worldwide.

John Ed Mathison Leadership Ministries

The John Ed Mathison Leadership Ministries was formed in 2008, as John Ed reached the mandatory retirement age of the United Methodist Church. The ministry is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. The mission of the ministry is to bring honor and glory to the Kingdom of God by training leaders for Kingdom work. John Ed actively speaks to churches, conferences and leadership training programs on a local, national and global scale. More information is available at www.JohnEdMathison.org.



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Auburn and the BCS National Championship Tonight

Jan 10, 2011 by

GAME TIME TONIGHT is 8:30 Eastern/7:30 pm Central on ESPN. Auburn v. Oregon.

UPDATE: I’ve written before on how I understood White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs protecting the interests of the news media.   I missed this the other day, but it’s a hoot that Gibbs says he’ll roll the White House if Auburn wins tonight.

I wasn’t born in 1957.  I’m told that’s the last time Auburn won a national championship.  Believe me, I’ve had dozens, if not more, Alabama fans remind me over and over and over since 1980 when I moved to Alabama for the second time in my life.

We moved back at the beginning of my sophomore year of high school.  In getting to know the mates in class, I’d ask who they were pulling for in the NFL.  Being a Dallas Cowboys fan since I can remember, it was just the most natural question I could ask.

Auburn or Alabama

But you see, in Alabama, there is no professional football team.  (Keep the snod Cam Newton comments to yourselves, please.) I was told, “We don’t follow the NFL here. You’re either and Auburn fan or an Alabama fan.  There ain’t no in between and there is nothing else.  Plus, the Falcons suck.”

And so in those formative years, I found myself following Auburn.  They began a run over Alabama in those days–though that first November Paul “Bear” Bryant beat Auburn and achieved his record setting wins or something.

Three years later, when it came time to choose where I wanted to go to college, there was only one place.  Auburn.

After college, when I began working in the Governor’s Office for Gov. Guy Hunt, an Alabama fan, and then Gov. Fob James, a star on the 1954 Auburn team, the loyalties for Auburn became more and more entrenched.  Being from North Alabama and hiring a good many fokes from up that way, members of the Hunt administration to me mainly were “Them.”  Being in Montgomery and so close to Auburn, I became to them an “Aub.” A “One of ’em.” And I became an easy mark.

Driving through east Alabama on one of the governor’s stops, someone looked at a dilapidated old country home and said, “Look, there’s the Auburn campus.” One of the security used to send me beeper messages saying there was a 10-54 in the road in Auburn.  (A dead cow.) Yeah, with Auburn having done so much for agriculture in the state, it was so easy for them.

Gov. James was different.  Well, he at least still pulled for Auburn.  And with him were more like-minded people.  I didn’t hear anything more about 10-54s.

The History of Auburn Sports

Over the years, I’ve seen Auburn so close to being able to break into the top, only to be let down by a bad play, a bad referee call, or the prejudices of the BCS system where a 13-0 record wasn’t good enough to get into the top game only to see Oklahoma field a team that played as well as a little league squad.

I’ve seen the incredible beauty of Bo Jackson running.  I’ve seen good quarterbacks rise up and become household names in Alabama where you could talk about them like they were regulars in sitting across the dinner table.  And I’ve seen them try so hard, and just not make it.

It’s been an up and down ride.  The ridicule. The crap the BCS pulled.  I’ve seen coaches come and go.  And now I’ve seen two great players, Bo Jackson and Cam Newton win the Heisman Trophy.

Tonight’s Game

Tonight’s game is going to be an emotional event for many, many people across Alabama and across the country, and around the world.  There are Auburn people everywhere, we’re probably just not as loud as fans like Georgia or Oklahoma.

We work hard.  We wear orange and blue.  And we confuse many when we yell War Eagle!” at kickoffs, or when we walk past someone else with an Auburn t-shirt or lapel pin, and then describe ourselves as “The Auburn Tigers.”

The stories are rich.  To ever see the Eagle fly from the stands at Auburn’s Jordan Hare Stadium down to the center of the field over the AU emblem stirs almost as much emotion in many as the playing of a wedding march or the national anthem. And to see the mascot, Aubie, usually a crazy guy in a tiger suit who has an uninhibited personality, hamming it up with referees, players, children and the hot hottie who’s gushing for him as much as he’s gushing for her, is enough to make you smile and say, “War Eagle” all over again.

Naturally, I don’t know what will happen in tonight’s game.  But I can easily get choked up like John Boehner winning a door prize at the pride I have of the guys who will be there on that field tonight, (most likely with Brent Musburger biasedly hyping Oregon).

There are generations of people around the world who have been waiting for tonight to happen almost as bad as Cubs fans long for a return to the World Series.  (I’m a Cubbie, too, so trust me, I get it in the Fall and Spring and Summer.)

Hopefully, things will go well tonight.  Even so, the 2010 football seasons has been one of the best rides ever.  We’re honored to have had you along.

War Eagle!

And ESPN, if Musberger sounds biased, I’ll just watch it with no sound.

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