In remembrance of John Jay Hooker

It was my first brush with a real, live, seersucker-clad political legend. In person and up close, John Jay Hooker commanded attention and fomented respect, whether or not one knew exactly who he was. I can still hear his baritone voice enunciate the word “Attorney” (and yes it was capitalized) in that olden Nashville accent.

The scene wasn’t what you might expect. Not a rally, nor a courtroom, nor a university lecture; it was actually a blogging conference, where many attendees were younger, technical, entrepreneurial, and either progressive or libertarian-ish, if politically minded at all. What was this man in his seventies, who had decades before run (and lost) as a Democrat for Governor of Tennessee, doing in our midst?

While some of the memories have faded and others are available only by the grace of the Wayback Machine, a few extant accounts help fill in the gaps. I especially appreciate this one from Les Jones, whose site still captures the quote “You can’t call a son-of-a-bitch a son-of-a-bitch without calling him a son-of-a-bitch.” It’s cheeky out-of-context, but when considered as part of a discussion on independent, individual media voices telling the truth, Hooker’s aptness is readily apparent.

And that’s why he was there. For whatever reason, Hooker had an insatiable curiosity about, and hope in, the form of content production and sharing we called blogging. He attended BlogNashville as a learner, but every true learner is also a teacher.

Hooker held court during a raucous session ironically titled something about “Respectful Disagreement,” during which the presenter, with the able help of a few combatants, proceeded to blow the very concept to smithereens. (I’ve still never quite figured out how much of that was on purpose.) In that circus moment, seeming like nothing more than a caricature and a gadfly, Hooker slyly revealed his true nature. It was, in retrospect, like watching someone practice “drunken fist” fighting. He won you over. He made you a follower. He was magnetic.

This website endeavored to follow the Tennessee giant thereafter, whether it was listing him among candidates for office, or linking to articles about his fervent opposition to judicial nomination—or just people commenting on his general quirkiness. Like many others, I became “friends” on Facebook with him.

I can’t claim but a sliver of knowledge about the man’s life and legacy, and even that owes a debt to my fellow correspondents across the state. But my encounter with him was nonetheless momentous, as it propelled my resolve to become a more fully participating citizen, and to use the web to inveigle others.

John Jay Hooker loved the Constitution. He stood up for individual rights. He taught us that love of liberty can transcend political ideology, as can personal friendships. He lost a lot of battles, including his final one. His gift to all is our ability to carry the light forward, despite our flaws and failures, using his tenacity as our model.

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