Sometimes things come together better than peanut butter and jelly. Take last week. I was invited to speak at the 20th annual Awards for Excellence in Law Enforcement, sponsored by the Gainesville Kiwanis Club and saluting members of the law enforcement community in the city and in Hall County. This event had a lot going for it.
For one thing, I have a warm spot in my heart for Gainesville, going back to the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. As a member of the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games, I remember cities across the state begged, cajoled and sometimes threatened us for the opportunity to host an Olympic venue. If they were successful, you would have thought we had suddenly brought a plague of locust upon them.
Local officials immediately began whining about the traffic problems the venue would cause them, security concerns, the inconvenience to the locals and — oh, yeah — the need for us to pay for everything. Gainesville and Hall County were the notable exceptions.
Lake Lanier was the venue selected for Olympic rowing, canoeing and kayaking. There was no whining. No complaining. No hands out for more money. The local leadership went about their work staging the events and it was a huge success. Today, the venue is one of the few still in operation from the 1996 Games. Hence, my warm spot for the area.
Also, any time I have the opportunity to thank members of the law enforcement community for their efforts to protect us from our ungrateful selves, I jump at the chance. These are people who are doing things you and I couldn’t do and who see a side of society we don’t want to see. People who risk their lives for us daily. I don’t know how they do it, but I am glad they do.
Those being honored by the Gainesville Kiwanians included members of the Gainesville Police Department, the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, the Hall County Correctional Institute, the local State Patrol post, the Department of Natural Resources and the regional Juvenile Justice facility. I am a member of the board of the Department of Juvenile Justice.
Each honoree’s supervisor spoke about how their department had selected the recipient and why. And then the honoree said a few words in response. By the time they had finished, there wasn’t much left for me to say. They had said it all.
They talked about their faith, families, coworkers, the satisfaction they get from their job and helping people and the disappointment at how we sometimes view them.
When my time came, I shared a few corny jokes (thankfully, they laughed in all the right places and didn’t arrest me for impersonating a speaker) and reminded them that, unfortunately, our society values being entertained more than being educated or protected. You need only look at what we pay athletes to hit a ball with a stick and movie stars to pretend to be someone they are not and then look at what we pay teachers to educate us and members of law enforcement to protect and serve us.
Overpaid athletes and smug movie stars are not heroes. Not even close. They are as relevant to the well-being of society as crabgrass. I was face-to-face with real heroes in Gainesville. I hope the kind of recognition that took place in Gainesville is occurring at local civic clubs all over Georgia.
There is another reason Gainesville is special to me. It is where my brother lives. Unlike his younger brother, Bob Yarbrough is the quiet and thoughtful branch of the family. After a successful business career, retiring as president of a publishing company in Chicago, Bob moved to Gainesville to be near his two daughters and their spouses, one of whom is Lee Darragh, the district attorney in Hall County. These days, the former businessman spends his time volunteering at the local hospital and at his church. That’s just the kind of person he is.
So here I am in a town for which I have a particular fondness because they walked their talk when it came to the 1996 Olympic Games. I’m watching community leaders showing appreciation for the hard work and dedication of their local law enforcement agencies. And if that wasn’t enough, there sits a guy in the front row watching a kid brother whose shoes he used to have to tie. A day just doesn’t get any better than that.
You can reach Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org.