Do your duty in all things. You cannot do more, you should never wish to do less.
- Robert E. Lee
If the South has an icon, it certainly could be Robert E. Lee, born 200 years ago today.
He's loved now almost as much as he was in 1870, when his visit to Augusta not only was cause for celebration but also made a lasting impression on a young Woodrow Wilson. The future 28th president would try to use Lee's lessons of life and loss to craft a better world after that first Great War of the 20th century.
Augusta has long admired the gracious, stoic Virginian. His birthday once was celebrated with regularity by citizens who could admire his life as often as they could admire his marble image on Broad Street's monument.
He remains the epitome of American virtues and American contradictions. He surrendered an army, but won its heart in a war he didn't want against a nation he was trained to serve.
It was a service shared earlier by his father, Henry Lee, not only a Revolutionary War leader but also a hero of the 1781 Battle of Augusta.
The younger Lee crafted his own success: Second in his class at West Point, a Mexican War hero, an exceptional military engineer, a brilliant battle strategist, a beloved leader, a college president and, in the end, a spokesman for national reconciliation.
That was his message here in 1870, months before he died. He told those distressed by civil war and Reconstruction that the issue had been decided, we were one nation and we needed to get on with our lives without hatred or sectionalism.
As Southerners we love him because he was the best we have to offer: honorable, compassionate and a brilliant warrior.
Yes, we ultimately lost that war, but afterward, Lee demonstrated to all how to deal with such a burden.
I think that's the lasting legacy of Robert E. Lee. He showed us then and shows us still that we often pay the price for honorable decisions. We can do many things right but still end up losing.
When we do, as is often the case, we accept responsibility. We don't blame others. We make our peace and go on with our lives, sharing a message of love for all.
When asked, Lee once put it simply, "My chief concern is to try to be an humble, earnest Christian."
For 200 years he has been a wonderful example.