Hubbert was a giant for the state of Alabama

Published 5:09 pm Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Giant lived among us. He has now transitioned to a fully spiritual state. Even in this spiritual state, he is still a Giant. I am proud that I knew the Giant and called him friend.

The Giant was born on Christmas Day. Some of us smile as we say that it was no accident that he was born on this day. He inspired great devotion and great antipathies. Those who loved him truly loved him. Those who hated him truly hated him. These powerful loves and hates bring to mind another spiritual being born on this same day.

I knew the Giant first hand for nearly 31 years.  I knew him up close and personal for 20 of those 31 years. I chaired the Senate Finance and Taxation Education Committee (F&TE) for 16 years from January 1995 to December 2010.  F&TE handles the annual multi-billion dollar education budget. I knew what it was like to work with the Giant. I also knew what it was to be on opposite sides. He was a Giant whether he worked with or in opposition.

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Somewhere along the way, we became friends.  I don’t know exactly when or how.  I never once called him Paul. He never once called me Hank. To me, he was always Dr. Hubbert. To him, I was always Senator Sanders. These titles were neither barriers nor facilitators of friendship.

When I called Ann Hubbert, his wife of 58 years, the first thing she said was, “Paul really loves you.”  I said, “I really love him.”  He was a Giant in love of people.

The Giant truly knew how to work across lines of differences. That ability allowed so many other things to develop that made Alabama a better place in which to live.

I don’t know where or how he learned to work across such chasms of differences. I know that as Interim Superintendent, he helped desegregate the Tuscaloosa City Schools in 1965 when fires of resistance were strongly raging.

I know that in his first year as superintendent of the Troy City Board of Education, he helped desegregate the school system in the face of stiff opposition. I know that in 1969, his very first year heading AEA, he and Dr. Joe Reed facilitated the merger of the all-White Alabama Education Association and the all-Black Alabama State Teachers’ Association when nearly everyone thought it was impossible. He was a Giant in working across age-old chasms.

The Giant helped build the Alabama Education Association into the most successful state association in the country. It became a model for NEA state associations across the country. AEA not only lifted teachers, school bus drivers, aides and others associated with the organization but also lifted the entire state. He was a penetrating visionary and powerful implementer. Rarely do these two talents inhabit the same person. Both traits aligned as one in the Giant.

The Giant understood that power is necessary to forge visions into reality.  To implement his visions, he became a Giant in politics, the most powerful person in Alabama.

Some even called him “Governor” because he was perceived as the most powerful person. However, he did not abuse his power and did not use his power to advance himself. He used his power to make Alabama and America better places in which to live. He was a Giant of integrity.

In 1989, the Giant was facing certain death. His liver had ceased working because of an inherited trait. It could not be further treated. He received a liver transplant that might give him just a few more years to live.

However, he lived 25 more years, becoming one of the longest living liver transplantees in the world.  The worked to help others receive transplants so they could live longer.  Even in the medical realm, he was a Giant.

The Giant ran for Governor in 1990 and 1994.  He was the Democratic nominee in 1990, and I supported him.  In 1994 he ran against a sitting Governor for the Democratic nomination. I did not support him. The explanation is complicated. However, I have been sorry ever since for I know Alabama would have been better served if the Giant had become Governor.

Dr. Paul Hubbert loved his wife Ann, and she loved him. He loved his children and grandchildren, and they loved him. He lifted family by his example and his living.  He was a Giant in family.

I am glad that I helped give a few flowers while the Giant yet lived. In 2009, on his 40th Anniversary with the Alabama Education Association (AEA), he refused to participate in any celebration.

So many wanted to celebrate his great service during this milestone, but he forbade it. They respected his decision.

However, I insisted on the celebration. I told him it was as much for others as for him. He reluctantly agreed.

I believe he appreciated the celebration. He was humble in spite of being an acknowledged Giant in so many arenas.

After Dr. Hubbert retired as Executive Secretary of AEA in 2010, he struggled with various illnesses.  Ann says that he was in the hospital too many times to count.

He was constantly under doctors’ care, and, more importantly, under Ann’s care.

I believed that God looked into the future and saw even more pain and suffering. I believe God said, “Paul Ray Hubbert, you have served well. You are indeed my good and faithful servant. You have suffered much.  I don’t want you to suffer anymore.”

I believe that on Tuesday, Oct. 14, 2014, God reached down, coupled the Giant in his hands and lifted him higher and higher and higher. The Giant is now at peace, and we must be at peace with his peace.

The best we can do is to follow the examples of leadership and living he demonstrated as he walked among us.

A few people are just bigger than life.

That makes them Giants. Dr. Paul Hubbert was a Giant, but he never acted like a Giant.

He was always a gentle Giant. That made him an even bigger Giant in our minds and hearts.