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American Idols

Celebrities are sideshows.

That’s not an original insight—no doubt it’s occurred to you that family, friends, and co-workers are the truly significant stars in the universe.

But it’s an observation we ought to make more often than just in response to life’s occasional jolts.

Like now, as I write this column during breaks in a trip down I-65 to a memorial service in Montgomery, Alabama, for friend and colleague Darryl Gates.

Darryl was my counterpart, editor of Alabama Living, that state’s magazine for electric co-op members. I’d see him twice a year, at national meetings. His thoughtful and life-affirming presence filled the space around us during work sessions in the morning, and at the sports bar in the evening.

As I drive south on the freeway, those times with Darryl recall my 30 years in different jobs for electric co-ops, and remind me how I appreciate a business where the customer owns the electric company. It’s a business model I believe makes people a more important part of workday priorities.

As proof of that belief I think of the eulogies for another man, one I didn’t know, but who seemed to be best friends with everyone else.

Donald “Duck” Lynch died in February after nearly 30 years as a staking engineer with Cumberland Valley Electric co-op in southeast Kentucky. But he was known much farther and wider from previous jobs, and because Cumberland Valley regularly lent his services to other co-ops.

In his job of determining and securing locations for power poles, Cumberland Valley co-op President/CEO Ted Hampton says, “I never had one customer complaint. He never saw a person he didn’t like and people always liked him.”

As I type this on my laptop, the Olympics are on TV in the breakfast room of the Holiday Inn Express in Columbia, Tennessee. It’s clear the ones to watch are not the gymnasts on the screen but the blonde 6-year-old sisters giggling and mimicking the tumbling routines; it’s their dad who quietly helps clean up after one of the girls’ bowls of Raisin Bran flies across the room; it’s the woman in the apron scanning the tables to make sure no one runs out of coffee or cinnamon rolls.

As I watch these everyday champions perform, I decide that as far as I’m concerned, Donald and Darryl are still around.

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