In The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker is about to enter a forbidding cave as part of his training.
“What’s in there?” he wants to know.
“Only what you take with you,” he’s told.
What was true in that cave is also true in the halls of power.
Some politicians take with them a hunger for power – and when they get it, their appetite for it overcomes their good sense and, in many cases, their goodness.
Others, though, take with them a deep desire to serve, to help, to honor those who have placed great trust in them. They carry with them an abiding
concern for how their actions will impact others, not themselves.
That latter description defines Jack Connell.
Augusta’s 34-year state representative, and 26-year No. 2 man in the entire Georgia House, could very easily have abused the enormous power and influence he earned in Atlanta. Instead, he used it for good – for the good of Augusta, and for the good of the entire state.
In either case, it was for the good of others.
Augusta has long sent
capable, assertive leaders to the Capitol. But the area’s influence in the affairs of state never flourished for long when those leaders were self-absorbed. In contrast, the area was supremely well-served by the true public servant inside Jack Connell.
He was approachable and accessible, regardless of his lofty station. He eschewed attempts to honor him, with such gestures as naming the River Watch Parkway for him.
A native of downtown Augusta and graduate of the Academy of Richmond County, Connell served in World War II and, long before the days of drones, risked his life as a bombardier in the invasion of Normandy. He later started and juggled several businesses, even helping run minor league baseball teams here, and joined the legislature in 1969.
Connell’s affability was a perfect complement to longtime House Speaker Tom Murphy’s firm-fisted leadership. They were an odd couple, and perhaps a perfect one for the times.
Connell, the nation’s longest-tenured speaker pro tempore, who retired from the House in 2002, died Wednesday at 93.
He could scarcely have asked for a more fulfilling life, or been a better model of a life well-lived. He served his God, family, city, state and nation with the utmost distinction and honor, and in the process proved that nice guys do finish first after all.
“All power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” Lord Acton famously wrote. The question is why?
Well, scientists have actually studied that. As noted in Smithsonian magazine, a study last year in the Journal of Applied Psychology concluded that “power doesn’t corrupt; it heightens pre-existing ethical tendencies.”
In other words, the study found that what’s in your cave – or in the halls of power – is
primarily what you take with you.
Jack Connell took with him to Atlanta the best of what he was – the best of what Augusta had to offer.
He will be sorely missed. But he leaves a city, a region and a state better than he found it.