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Greatness

Thomas Clark, Kentucky’s premier historian, turned 100 this summer.

Bob Partridge, who headed the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association for 16 years, died in June at the age of 86.

Clark wrote 32 books on the history and society of Kentucky and the South. His writing holds up a mirror and shows us sides of ourselves we’ve never seen. His insights have a quiet wisdom that sneaks into your bones and becomes the way you view the world. And he put his learning into action, like helping create the Kentucky History Center in Frankfort.

His personality has a similar stealthy charm.

The day after his 100th birthday he spoke at a board meeting of the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives. He used a cane but shunned the chair and microphone that had been arranged for him. He walked to the lectern and quipped, “I’m going to stand to show you I can.”

He described how the coming of electricity to rural Kentucky in the 1930s revolutionized society by liberating women from lives of servitude to cooking, cleaning, and other tasks made crushing by the lack of electricity.

Clark said that change brought “a major turning point in American social life” because it allowed women to participate in community, political, spiritual, and world affairs.

Bob Partridge spent 40 years in jobs helping bring electricity to rural people. He believed the nation was better off if people had some control of the economy that affects them. Like Clark, he put that passion into action, working to build a network of consumer-owned electric co-ops, and bringing consumers and business together by helping start the Consumer Federation of America.

And like Clark, Partridge was always eager to talk about his ideas with anyone, without regard to their rank or background.

Both men are well and widely known, though they weren’t about fame. They lived comfortably, though their appearance and manner never made you think of wealth. Instead, you thought about what they stood for.

Bob Partridge, who left a powerful legacy, and Thomas Clark, who is still making his, embody substance and commitment to a cause. But they always remembered the point of their causes was how they helped people. They remind us that integrity and graciousness matter when measuring success.

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