A magnifying glass is most known for assisting aging eyes. It makes that which may appear small and insignificant suddenly vivid and more relevant. We can instantly see what we overlooked in our zeal to attribute outsized importance to that which is big and "high up."
And, so, it is fitting that the last time I visited Mayor Bill Gorman of Hazard and his beautiful wife, Nan, at their mountaintop home, they gave me the gift of a magnifying glass.
Though he wasn't given to subtlety, I can look back and see the gift as a reminder to me that Hazard was, and is, as important as anything in the world.
Now out of the day-to-day business of Kentucky local government, I heard about the passing of Gorman on the news. But the passing of a giant such as Bill Gorman doesn't go unnoticed. Gorman lived and breathed Hazard. He was its unabashed and bold proponent on every level — even on those issues that were most controversial such as mountaintop removal. He didn't care that he angered the establishment or the opposition. He held to his beliefs and didn't give a rip about what the editorial pages might say about him or his opinions.
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It was noted in the news that he was wealthy. Thus, he could have spent his wealth in any way he wished. He chose being the mayor of Hazard as his mission in life. He was part of a golden age of service when holding up his finger each morning to determine the way of political winds was not an option. As a mayor in Kentucky, he was part of the world of public service that receives little in the way of praise and virtually no pay, making wealth or retirement part of the job description.
He dedicated his life to making Hazard the stage for implementing his strong opinions on how to address the problems of Eastern Kentucky, his passion and also mine as a native of the region. His bold actions served as object lessons on how to get things done. A short list includes basics like water and sewer lines, an airport, higher education, job creation and more.
Every trip to Hazard began with the loving annoyance of Ed the Parrot's loud mouth in the lobby of city hall. The visit gravitated to the mayor's office with a review of his memorabilia and moved from there onto his plan for what was to come next. Visits were peppered with his opinions of the conventional wisdom of the day about the future of Appalachia. They always ended with a tour of the city and the latest projects — retail establishments, arts centers, higher education facilities and a meal at one of the local hangouts.
Gorman did much of his work before the arrival of what we are now describing as "new localism." He didn't need a fancy name for a movement that is palpable and for which a buzz is building — people are rejecting the cold flickering computer screen in the middle of the night and the bewilderment of the world in which we are living. More are seeking out local community and wanting to build that which they can put their arms around and embrace as their own.
Ironically, it is writer Wendell Berry to whom I reach for inspiration. He and Gorman likely agreed on very little having to do with public policy.
However, in essay after essay, it is Berry's lovingly detailed description of his small Henry County farm that is glaringly similar to Gorman's dedication to Hazard: a message about the uniqueness and importance of every place on Earth.
Recently, while enjoying a beautiful sunny day at the University of Wisconsin, where my son is studying, I had the opportunity to watch Simon, my 20-month-old grandson, as he beheld the journey of a ladybug from the sidewalk into the great abyss of the grassy lawn on which we sat. I noted his joy at the spectacle of what may have appeared tiny and ordinary to casual observers. He didn't need the magnifying glass to see the wonderment of the little world with which he was enthralled.
Mayor Bill Gorman didn't need the magnifying glass. He instinctively knew of the significance and importance of Hazard. He kept his childlike enthusiasm intact all throughout his life. Let's honor his commitment and his life by doing the same for all our places.