Alabama 27, LSU 21
The Loyal Opposition

Mister Ed, RIP

I’m not talking about the famous talking horse, but about my uncle, James Edwin Horton, known to his family and many of his friends by the name his farmhands used, Mister Ed. He died this past Saturday, and today is Veteran’s Day, an appropriate time for me to mention him.

He was my father’s brother, and two years older. Both served in the Army in World War II. My father was young  enough that he got into combat only at the very end of the war, although that was long enough for him to get seriously wounded. Ed was in it longer, and although I never asked him to talk about it I’m told that he was in some pretty heavy house-to-house fighting in Germany. After the war the brothers came home, went to college, married, and settled down. My father became an engineer. Ed joined their father in running the family farm, and as far back as I can remember clearly his was the main responsibility, as my grandfather was already in or near his seventies.

We lived on the farm, although my father commuted to work in town every day. When I was in high school I worked for several summers as a farmhand for Ed. I hated the school year and have never wished, as many people seem to do, to be back in high school, but those summers were some of the happiest days of my life. I didn’t mind the work, and took some pride in it. I seemed to have the respect of the other hands, and of Mister Ed.

He was a quiet, dignified, and intelligent man, with a deadpan sense of humor that could sometimes be morbid. When we—my siblings and cousins—were children, he used to tell us the tragic story of his twin sister Edwina, who one day was accidentally put into the oven with the cornbread (or was it a cake?). We were sure he was teasing, but I think our laughter was a bit nervous.

The farm economy rested, especially for a fairly sizable place like ours, on the poverty of the people who did most of the physical labor. But although the system was objectively unjust, Mister Ed was consistently fair and honest with everyone, and had the respect and affection of those who worked for him.

In the early ‘60s he was elected to the state Senate. This was of course the time of the civil rights movement, and George Wallace was the governor. Although Ed was no anti-segregation crusader, he didn’t like Wallace’s bigotry and demagoguery, and he didn’t like Wallace, period. He was part of a group of legislators who blocked Wallace’s bid to change the state constitution so that he could seek a second term as governor. Wallace was wildly popular, so this damaged, if it did not eliminate, Ed’s chances of winning a second term in the Senate. For that reason, and because his wife (“Miss Ann”) didn’t like running the farm during his lengthy absences, he didn’t run again.

I’ve often wished he had stayed in politics; he was personable as a campaigner and would have had some success, and he would have been a force for good. Years later, when interviewed about the Wallace years, he didn’t say much, only that he “didn’t think Wallace had the kind of ethics we want to see in a governor.” (I’m quoting from memory.) I thought that was classy. Mister Ed had a lot of class. RIP.



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