Harry does a vanishing act

Published 8:35 pm Tuesday, June 18, 2013

By Rex Alphin

It started at an early age. He had been asked to run for eighth-grade president. And since his opponent had to move with his family to another state three days before the election, he won. The vote was 16 to 7, but he won.

Thus was birthed the political life of Henry Wilson, thrust into the limelight at the age of 14.

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It was a learning experience.

He spoke mockingly about a particular girl’s party invitation and was reprimanded by both students and teachers. He learned to calculate beforehand all public comments.

He learned a person was not just a person. He or she was a vote. And that vote had the power to elect or reject. To empower or impeach. To glorify or crucify. The vote was everything.

At 18, he was elected Student Council president (he liked the sound of it), the most regular of his duties involving giving announcements over the school intercom. From this daily activity, he learned the value of using one’s position to further name recognition. And name recognition was priceless.

So it was that Henry continued to pursue office, eventually rising to City Council. He liked to talk and he liked to speak. He understood the value of remembering names and places and never missed a chance to rub shoulders with a potential voter.

At this larger local level, he learned he couldn’t contact everyone, but he could discover who a particular group of people followed, and woo that one person. And so he leveraged his charisma through a few to gain a thousand.

He never missed a chance to speak at gatherings, whether to thank those involved or offer comments only those in his position would know. As with the school intercom, it kept him in front of the people.

He understood the power of the promise. Words were free, and if structured well, they could impassion people about what he could do for them.

And he comprehended the significance of the handshake. It cemented deals. It meant people needed him. And it meant votes. Those life-sustaining votes. There was just something invigorating about shaking the hand of one you knew would now be on your side.

But through it all, Henry gradually changed. As with all men exposed to such circumstances, the allure of the position was strong. The promise of power was intoxicating. He thrived on seeing his name in print. He relished the endorsement of men. His moods hinged on approval ratings.

The tragedy of it all was that to family and friends, Henry ceased to exist. Like the work of a mad sculptor, the core of his existence was chipped away so that, eventually, Henry was no more.

He had become whomever the people wanted him to be.

Rex Alphin of Walters is a farmer, businessman, author, county supervisor and contributing columnist for the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is rexalphin@aol.com.