CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)
HED:Goodbye to old friends can be hard to say
By Danny McKenzie
We go through life and if we're lucky we get to know a handful of people with whom, given our druthers, we would gladly - selfishly - spend every waking moment.
Gladly, because they brighten up our lives. Selfishly, because they add to our lives and we know full well there is not a thing we can do to add to theirs.
They are the people we wish our children would become. They are the people we wish we were.
They are Frank Smith and Akida Aree Emir.
Mr. Smith, who passed away a couple of weeks ago, was a familiar name in Mississippi politics, history and letters.
Akida (Excuse the first-name reference; she was a first-name kind of person.) is familiar to thousands of Mississippians, but only in a supportive-role kind of way.
Mr. Smith was a congressman, a member of the TVA board and the owner of perhaps the best used and rare book store in the South.
Akida kept the Secretary of State's office humming in Jackson as executive assistant to Dick Molpus for many years.
And they both made life more enjoyable for all who knew them.
In a former life, as a columnist for Corporate America's newspaper in the Capitol City, Mr. Smith's Choctaw Books was a regular stop for me. Browsing through the innumerable shelves of books was interesting enough, but sitting and visiting with Mr. Smith was the real reason for me to go there.
Any time I needed background, Mr. Smith was always willing to share his wisdom. Though a series of strokes had left him, well, physically challenged, they, mercifully, left his mind as sharp as ever.
The price he paid for being a "moderate" congressman during the '50s and '60s was extraordinary. That a white man from the Mississippi Delta could actually respect black people was an enigma to the Citizens Council, Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups of their ilk.
Enigmas don't last long in politics, but, oh, they make life so much more enjoyable for those willing to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and discover the riches of substance.
Few were the hours that surpassed the morning in 1993 that I spent with Mr. Smith on the 25th anniversary of the death of one of his closest friends, Robert Kennedy. The stories he told of the man who should have been president were not the ones we have all heard so often, but stories that only true friends tell of each other, and you know they are coming from the heart.
A couple of years later, during a period of professional turmoil in my life, I got a telephone call from Mr. Smith. He knew of my plight and he wanted to know if I was all right.
Never mind that he had suffered a stroke just a week earlier and had almost died, he wanted to know how I was feeling. That was Frank Smith.
And then there is Akida.
There is no telling how many people she has made feel at ease in the intimidating labyrinth that is state government with her soothing voice, brilliant smile, remarkable efficiency and unending patience.
You knew that a telephone call to the Secretary of State's office would be returned, promptly, or the secretary of state would have hell to pay.
Being asked to wait for an appointment with Molpus was hardly disagreeable. Akida was there and she made you feel as if you were the most important item on Molpus' agenda - that the secretary of state was just cleaning up a little business so he could devote his full time to you.
And now Akida is lying in a Jackson hospital bed with cancer, putting to ease those around her concerned with her pain and suffering.
Not long ago we had to say goodbye to Mr. Smith.
We're not ready to say goodbye to Akida.
Danny McKenzie is the Daily Journal's managing editor for news.