Within minutes of Kay Ivey’s being sworn-in as Governor last week, there were requests for comments out of Wilcox County.
Ivey was raised in Camden. She graduated from Camden High School before attending Auburn and launching herself into a life that has included many successes. She was a high school teacher, bank officer, and state treasurer before becoming the first Republican woman in Alabama history to hold the office of Lieutenant Governor. She won re-election in 2014.
She is only the second woman to serve as Governor of Alabama, and the first to rise through the political ranks on her own. Yet no matter when or where along her life’s path, Kay Ivey has never been shy about calling Camden home.
She knows Wilcox County is not without its challenges. It competes back and forth with Sumter on being the poorest county in the state. Wilcox has always held the highest unemployment rate in the state. And the public school system has a record of graduating too many students who are not prepared for even entry-level position with the lowest of skill requirements.
Few counties more thoroughly represent the natural beauty Alabama has to offer. Wilcox’s agricultural roots gravitated out from the majestic Alabama River, but not everything here is beautiful. Headlines out of Wilcox are often critical and riddled with crime and corruption. The crime is usually domestic related. The corruption is so common it is easily ignored.
Being a quiet, rural community has not made Wilcox immune to societal issues. Substance abuse is a problem, as are broken homes, poverty, and hopelessness. They seem to progressively connect and have become a subculture present in the shadows.
Outsiders have long questioned why even the smallest of populations choose to stay in a place haunted by its past, while forgotten by time. But if you are of here or from here, you feel a connection to land and place. It is a lot like loving a person. You begin to understand why the weaknesses exist, you learn to accept aspects you can’t understand, and you value what remains. The energy that holds people here, is the same spirit that compels visitors to stay, and convinces those whose life’s work has taken them away to forever call it home.
Kay Ivey knows there are rare flowers still blooming in lonely yards along Broad Street. She knows garden spots where there are no longer gardens. She remembers people’s pets by name, and can practically recite the menu at both GainesRidge Dinner Club and Larry’s Drive In.
The kind of governor she becomes will be determined in time. We will leave that for the historians and critic to debate at a later date. They can one day word it however they will, and Wilcox County will still be proud of Kay Ivey. We appreciate that when we hear her speak publically, we can recognize snippets and syllables spoken in our own distinct dialect.
It reminds us. And it reassures our children that even with the challenges rural Alabama communities face, there is no bounds holding anyone back at the county line.
I guess it is fairly simple for everyone to understand why the residents of Wilcox County are proud of Governor Ivey. What may be more remarkable is how she continues to be so proud of us.
Amanda Walker is a blogger and contributor with AL.com, The Thomasville Times, West Alabama Watchman, and Wilcox Progressive Era. Contact her at email@example.com or at https://www.facebook.com/AmandaWalker.Columnist