Some memorable people in your life can set an example that stays with you forever, even if you don’t notice you’re learning something at the time.
That realization hit me when I heard Sunday morning that Dr. Jerry Bryson had died.
While the job description for an editor of a daily newspaper, even a small one like Harlan, doesn’t come right out and say the applicant has to be willing to make hundreds of people mad over a variety of issues, you eventually learn that’s part of the job.
There’s nothing quite like the feeling of walking into a room full of people who consider you the enemy, maybe because you wrote something they didn’t like about their relative or friend or favorite team or politician. You don’t even have to write something bad; just writing something good about another person or group they don’t like can put you in the dog house. Sitting in a gym full of people angry at you because their school is closing and you have been writing about what a good idea it is for years expanded that feeling of hate to new levels about a decade back, which is why now when someone likes something I wrote I usually ask that they remember it when I make them mad the next time.
There were also times I was on the other side, the favorite son because I was a spokesman for something that the majority agreed with, whether it was new roads or schools or the uselessness of a politician who has done little or nothing to help Harlan County.
Since I don’t have that kind of responsibility anymore, the sense of anger of others doesn’t come up often, and there’s really no point in bringing it up now except the death of a Harlan Countian who I’ve long respected as much as anyone made me think about those feelings again.
I first met Dr. Bryson soon after I returned to Harlan County after college. Between exercises at the World of Health in downtown Harlan or before city school board meetings, I had some fascinating conversations with Dr. Bryson and Grady Lee about sports, history, education and a variety of other topics.
Thinking about it now while reading some of the other tributes to Dr. Bryson, I can’t remember one conversation with him when I had that familiar feeling of someone being courteous on the outside but being hurt or angry inside about something I wrote or didn’t write.
There are many who knew Dr. Bryson much better than I, but that consistency he brought to his life and those whose lives he touched was remarkable. Year after year, decade after decade, he was the same person every time. There was nothing but genuine kindness, caring and class.
I’ve met a lot of wonderful people in the 30 years I’ve worked with and served the public. Not many are even in the same league as Jerry Bryson.
Many are great at talking about the kind of person you should strive to be, but most, including me, fall well short.
Dr. Bryson was as close as I’ve seen to being that person.