Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Sine Die, Mr. Speaker

Former Georgia House Speaker Tom Murphy Dies:

"Former Georgia House Speaker Tom Murphy, a cigar-chomping country lawyer who towered over state politics when Democrats were at their zenith, died at 10 p.m. Monday, nearly four years after a stroke left him incapacitated. He was 83."

While most students probably don't know or remember who Tom Murphy was, the former speaker was, literally, a towering figure in Georgia politics for more than 30 years. And despite some controversial viewpoints, he was arguably the single most important figure in this state's history since the 1960's.

On a personal note, I did my undergraduate internship at the Georgia Dome during the late 1980's and had the good fortune to rub elbows with "Mr. Speaker" several times. He was literally a figure larger than life, and while it was easy to tremble in fear around him (his legendary temper and ability to punish those who crossed him preceded him), he would quickly throw an arm around your shoulder and "jaw bone" with you like he'd known you forever. The dichotomies in the man were striking, but fair.

As a former defense attorney, he cared mightily for Georgia's indigent defendants in the criminal justice system. And along with former Representative Denmark Groover (now deceased as well), I probably learned more about the Georgia Constitution and how laws were written and passed during those two legislative sessions than all the years of college combined up to that point.

"I've had a good life," Murphy said during an April 2003 interview in his Bremen law office. "I'm very satisfied with the way it all turned out."

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