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Decatur reaping fruit of past, Brewer says

By Eric Fleischauer
eric@decaturdaily.com 340-2435

In a speech laced with reminiscences of Decatur, former Gov. Albert Brewer said today's civic leaders are reaping the fruit and drinking from the wells of their forebears.

Brewer, who served as governor from 1968 through 1971 and grew up in Decatur, was the keynote speaker at Tuesday's 76th annual meeting of the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce. He was introduced by Daily Publisher Barrett C. Shelton Jr.

Shelton called the state's failure to elect Brewer governor "one of the worst days" in the state's history. "We made that mistake again four years later, and we'll continue to pay for that mistake forever."

Brewer, serving as lieutenant governor from 1967-68, finished the term of former Gov. Lurleen B. Wallace after her death.

Shelton said Brewer's years in office were a blessing for the state as he worked to ease inflamed racial tensions and deal with desegregation.

Brewer, a professor emeritus of law and government at Samford University, was speaker of the state House of Representatives from 1963 through 1966. He is chairman of the board of the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama.

Brewer recalled the good days of Decatur and the bad ones as well. The Great Depression, he said, hit Decatur hard, especially after the L&N railroad shops closed, cutting 1,000 jobs

"There were no jobs. There was no money. There was no credit," Brewer said. "But there were leaders who did something to bring hope."

Even when they could not attract industry, those leaders created their own with a cooperative meat and dairy facilities.

Brewer spoke much of Barrett C. Shelton Sr.'s role in pulling Decatur through those difficult years.

"Barrett (Sr.) lifted this community by its bootstraps. He was the leader," Brewer said. "He had the drive to get done what needed to be done."

He said the community's attention to the education of its children has always been its hallmark, and has had much to do with its success.

"Our community leaders were determined we would have the best schools possible," Brewer said.

The importance of that mission, he said, has never been greater than now.

"The most serious challenge we face is the availability of qualified workers," Brewer said. He complimented Gov. Bob Riley and community leaders for tackling that problem aggressively through the public school system.

He lamented the problems the two-year college system is facing, but said they remain a pivotal part of the state's future.

"They're facing serious problems today," Brewer said, "but don't let those problems blind you to the vital role they play in economic development."

Brewer stressed that regionalism was necessary to Morgan County's continued development. Economic success in adjoining counties and even adjoining states, he said, benefits local residents.

"We have much more that unites us than that which divides us," Brewer said.

The regional approach, the focus on education and the perseverance of leaders even in difficult times have created economic growth, he said, that has brought more than money to this area.

"Many of you here tonight came here with the influx of new industry," Brewer said to the 300 attending the dinner. "You have made this community a better place to live.

"You are planting the fruit trees and digging the wells for those who will come after. Can there be a more noble calling?"

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