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Hunt was humble first lady

By Staff
I was saddened by the recent passing of former First Lady Helen Hunt. She was a real lady. During my tenure in the Legislature I never met a more wonderful first lady of Alabama.
I know that her husband, former Gov. Guy Hunt, is deeply saddened by the early death of Mrs. Helen at age 70. You could tell by the way they looked at each other that Guy and Helen Hunt adored one another. They were childhood sweethearts in rural Holly Pond in Cullman County. They were lifetime companions who were totally devoted to each other.
Gov. Hunt became was elected in 1986 mostly by accident due to the Bill Baxley/ Charlie Graddick debacle in the Democratic Primary that year. The Democrats arrogantly selected Bill Baxley as the Democratic nominee although Charlie Graddick received the most votes. The Alabama electorate was incensed. The Democrats haughtily assumed they could handpick their nominee and the Democrat would be elected governor regardless, which had been the case for 100 years. They were even more confident that their high handedness would prevail due to the fact that the Republican nominee was an obscure former probate judge and rural primitive Baptist preacher with no name identification and no financial support.
Nobody could foresee the tremendous resentment that the Alabama electorate had for this travesty. Just about anyone could have beaten Baxley because of the backlash. If the handpicking was not enough of a slap in the face to Alabama voters, Baxley added insult to injury by declaring that poor old Guy Hunt only had a high school education and was not capable of being governor with so little formal education. This sealed Baxley's fate. Most Alabamians have only a high school education, so Baxley in essence had insulted about 80 percent of all Alabama voters. Hunt won the election and became Alabama's first Republican governor in a century.
Gov. Hunt worked hard to build a coalition with conservative Democratic legislators. In the House there were about 25 conservative, pro-business Democrats. By creating a coalition with us and the Republicans, Gov. Hunt had a majority in the House. He had a simple agenda and did not try to bite off more than he could chew. In my opinion he was a successful governor. Part of his success was due to the diligent courting of conservative Democrats. Guy Hunt took a page from George Wallace and would visit with us regularly, help with constituent requests, and have us out to the Governor's Mansion for supper on a regular basis. Mrs. Helen was always so genuine and sincere with absolutely no pretense of importance. She was the epitome of humility.
My fondest memory of Mrs. Helen occurred on one of the nights that Gov. Hunt had several House Members out to the mansion for supper. We were seated at a very long table with the governor at one end and Mrs. Helen at the other. I was seated by Mrs. Helen and we visited during the meal. It was one of the sweetest conversations I have ever had. She looked you gently, but squarely, in the eye. She listened to every word you said. She spoke in a tone that truly exuded the finest qualities of a lady of substance. She truly was a lady that typified a Christian heart that was as pure as gold. Mrs. Helen had the class and dignity that made you proud she was the First Lady of Alabama. After the meal, she quietly dismissed herself as Gov. Hunt began to talk with us about a pending issue. My mama instilled in me a habit of always thanking the cook after your meal and telling them you enjoyed it. As I entered the mansion kitchen in search of the cook, to my amazement I saw Mrs. Helen washing the dishes while four members of the kitchen staff looked on. She had insisted. I guess she could not stand the thought of someone waiting on her. Obviously, she missed the simple surroundings of her Holly Pond home. She truly had rather have been back on the farm than in the pompous trappings of the Governor's Mansion.
Helen Hunt was one of the finest first ladies to have ever graced the Governor's Mansion.
See you next week.
Steve Flowers writes a weekly syndicated column on Alabama politics. He served 16 years in the Alabama House of Representatives. He may be reached at www.steveflowers.usa.