Webster: Gatewood a throwback lawyer who got you thinking

Gatewood Galbraith's signature hat was displayed on his portrait at a Jan. 12 public memorial service in Lexington.
Gatewood Galbraith's signature hat was displayed on his portrait at a Jan. 12 public memorial service in Lexington. HERALD-LEADER

Gatewood Galbraith once invited the Mule Band down to a farm picnic, kicking off another campaign, another to be decided by process, not content.

Our music is rough and raggedy, tells the truth and doesn't take itself too seriously, so we belonged at Gatewood's gathering and were honored to be there.

What Gatewood really wanted was not banjo picking.

Directly, Gatewood called me aboard a long-in-the-tooth Winnebago for a serious talk and told me the real reason he invited me down was he wanted me to be his running mate. He had apparently sensed my lifelong ambition to be lieutenant governor, and I was once runner-up for that job.

Gatewood liked to tell my response to his offer which was: "Gatewood, if I ran with you my wife would leave me, my children would never speak to me again, I would be betraying all my political friends and I would go completely broke ... but I'll think about it."

He did get you to thinking, He sicced the truth on the establishment dogma. He made the television debates just entertaining enough that you might not switch to simulated sex on another channel. Like most truth tellers, he had to hold some stuff back. His flowing public discourse in favor of a native fiber as an industrial product was a smoke screen. If they had let Gatewood teach the D.A.R.E. program and be honest about it, our young would not now be killing themselves taking the pills which the police taught them about in school.

Gatewood was, in fact, a throwback. He dressed like your farmer-uncle would to go to church once a year on Easter with those old-timey shirt collars and that hat, like men wore before Kennedy. In small-town America when we were boys there were characters who might spend some time in the high country, but were beloved because they were characters. To be one, you had to work at it. It is a full-time job, and you are always on duty. Gatewood was a throwback character.

He was a throwback lawyer, back to a time when court was the only show in town and if you were going to be a lawyer you had better put one on. Gatewood's eventual celebrity softened the blows inflicted by society on the shot-down flyers of the Free Mexican Airforce.

I don't know Gatewood's children, but I have had the pleasure of paying their child support. The resulting debt to me was an obligation Gatewood acknowledged less after the statute of limitations. I was glad to keep Gatewood out of jail and fully expected the same service from him some day.

I hurt him some, later, when I came to think that his races were a mistake, and wrote so, reasoning that if that eight to 10 percent he always got was up for grabs in a close election, a candidate with process (money) might actually pay attention to some of those Gatewood ideas. Sound ideas — like repeal of drug laws, like creating thousands of new jobs and saving the mountains at the same time, like giving poor kids a little money to start college — get marginalized easily.

When a Democrat has to be for some of that stuff to get nominated or elected, those ideas have a chance. But, then, who could imagine the last 30 years without Gatewood?

And he had those fascinating running mates, other idea people with no money. So, out there, somewhere, is Gatewood's replacement. We are open for applications. You will lose most everything you hold dear ... but think about it.

Larry Webster is a Pikeville attorney. Reach him at websterlawrencer@bellsouth.net.