A warrior has fallen! A man driven by the truth and the dream of social justice for all has left the battlefield. His name was Gatewood Galbraith and he died in his sleep last week. Final peace be to the warrior.
I knew him in good and bad times for over 40 years. He was a part of the political debate and power struggles that have defined Kentucky’s struggle to be a modern state over the past four decades. Gatewood was a loud and important voice in the tapestry of debate over protecting civil rights, promoting alternative energy, and bringing a Marine’s sense of common justice to state government.
That’s right. Gatewood held a law degree, was an ex-Marine, and stood as tall as John Wayne. In fact, he enjoyed playing the role of a modern tough guy with the heart as big as Texas. John Wayne and Gatewood would have been the best of friends if they would have worked together.
The closest that Gatewood got to Hollywood was his strong friendship with Willie Nelson. I had the privilege to be present during the 1995 race for governor when Willy came to Lexington to campaign for Gatewood. Willy played for three hours that night to raise money for the “cause”.
In political history, the year 1994 was famous for its mood of revolution among the state’s major interest groups. The teachers marched on Frankfort. The farmers marched on Frankfort. Some 7,000 union brothers marched on Frankfort. They were led by Jerry Hammond and other labor leaders. Budget cuts, education reform gone bad, tobacco taxes, and economic development laws that favored business over workers brought out the marchers.
That was the year that Gatewood teamed up with the ironworker, Jerry Hammond. Jerry ran as Gatewood’s Lt. Gov candidate. This was the year that the leadership of the Courier Journal newspaper refused to print either one of their names or any press coverage about them for fear that their message might catch fire across the state.
But above all else, Gatewood, the man was driven by a deep personal need to make Kentucky the best place that could be for his two daughters and the rest of us. He was not a man afraid of authority or the status quo. Often in his campaigns he tore into corruption that hung over Frankfort like a low hanging cloud of sour mash.
He went after the big corporations who were buying government in Frankfort. However, in every race he tried, he had no money.
He knew that honor, pride, justice, rightness of ideas, compassion for the downtrodden held little money value in Kentucky statewide political races. During one campaign, Gatewood told me that he hadn’t paid his campaign office telephone bill for 6 months. Laughing, he said, “My best theory is that the FBI have paid my phone bills just to keep the damn thing turned on so they can listen in on my ramblings.”
At some time in Kentucky’s future, we will come to realize that Gatewood was fighting the right battle all these years. Gatewood was a deeply religious man. He felt that what he was doing was the Lord’s work here on the earth. Gatewood believed that he was lifting up a banner of light against the darkness of intolerant thinking.
Gatewood was a throw back to an earlier time in American history when the good guys stood up for the little people against the bad guys. He stood tall as the voice for those who could not raise their voices in seeking a better life. He often said in public what the rest of us only dared to think about in private as to what was wrong in our state.
Gatewood was one for modern Kentucky history books.
21st Century Kentucky will need more voices like Gatewood to move us along the path of greatness as a modern state. If we fail to pursue the themes and warnings of Gatewood, then Kentucky can easily slip backwards into world of corporate company stores, natural resource ravaging regions, and educational ignorance.
His fight is over but I am afraid our public struggle is far from over. Thanks to men like Gatewood Galbraith and Jerry Hammond, we have role models of individual leadership to take back our state from corporate raiders and corrupt politicians.
A great debate in history is the question “Does the event make history or does the individual make the history?
Most times the example for this is one name, Churchill. How would our world be if there had been no Churchill to stand up to Hitler? On the other side of this statement is the fact that Churchill needed the extremes of a Europe exploding into darkness and loss of civilization in order to be himself at full speed into a good fight.
The truth is, I suspect that in the fog of history, the event needs the man as much as the man needs the event. They work the street as a team.
For the past 40 years, Kentucky political debate has been made the richer because of men like Gatewood. While others brought “mortgaged political careers to special interests to the struggle over Kentucky’s political soul, he brought the people’s passion for social justice to the great political debates of our times.”
Gatewood was tea party before the tea party came on the scene. He was an Occupier before the Wall Street occupiers were even aware of what was going on. He stood against Wall Street, big government, and corruption. Now others will hopefully pick his fallen banner and keep the fames of justice lit.
Go in peace, friend. Your battle is over.