Maynard Made It
by Walter E. Massey
On the morning Maynard Jackson died, I was driving to an appointment in Kennesaw. A member of my staff called to say that Maynard had collapsed at Reagan National Airport and been taken to a local hospital. I was very concerned, but not alarmed. I knew Maynard was diabetic and that such things are not uncommon for people with that malady. And I knew that Maynard was a fighter, having faced and survived heart bypass surgery several years earlier.
However, a short while later, my colleague called back to say, “Walter, Maynard didn’t make it.”
My first reaction to this news was shock, then sheer grief. I pulled my car to the side of the road and took a few moments to compose myself. I thought about Maynard’s family and about his many friends and how they must be struggling, as I was, to come to grips with the overwhelming loss of a man so full of life.
Over and over throughout the morning, the words, “Maynard didn’t make it,” reverberated in my mind. Later in the day, as the reality and finality of his death settled on me and I began to reflect on his life I thought, in fact, Maynard did make it. He made it in so many ways.
I recalled my first encounter with him when he and I were both undergraduates and early admission students at Morehouse College in the mid-1950s. Maynard made it, at the age of 14, as one of the youngest, brightest students on campus. Even then, he stood out. He was involved and visible on campus, a natural leader who commanded the respect of his elders and peers alike.
I also remembered how proud I was when Maynard made it by being elected the first African American mayor of Atlanta. I was living in Providence, Rhode Island, at the time but watched from afar as he transformed this regional, southern city into a major, international metropolis. I watched as he made it by challenging the status quo and creating opportunities for citizens of all races to benefit from Atlanta’s growth.
But my most vivid memories of Maynard centered on my close interactions with him when I returned to Atlanta and Morehouse in 1995 to serve as its president. Maynard was a member of the College’s Board of Trustees. In this capacity, he was a tireless advocate for excellence, a visionary who believed his alma mater’s future role in the education of African American men would be even greater than its past.
For the next eight years, Maynard was to me a confidant, guide, friend and mentor. As I, who had not lived in the South for more than 30 years, learned to navigate my way in this new environment, he helped me to avoid pitfalls and serious faux pas, and to correct the inevitable mistakes I did make. He was always available when I called. His secretary would often say, “He’s on another line,” or “He’s in a meeting, but I am sure he would want me to interrupt for you, Dr. Massey.” And then, Maynard would come on the line with that resonant voice and say, “What can I do for you, Mr. President?”
The last time I called Maynard, it was to ask if he would deliver the address at our summer commencement on July 25. This would be the first summer graduation ceremony at Morehouse and the occasion called for someone with a strong and compelling message who not only embodied the spirit of what it means to be a Morehouse man, but also could point the way for our newest graduates to follow in that tradition. I barely had the request formed when Maynard said, “Yes, Mr. President, it would be my honor.”
Sadly, Maynard will not be able to deliver that speech. But, because he made it in all these other ways, because his life and, now, his legacy of leadership speaks for itself, Maynard’s message will continue to inform the minds and inspire the hearts of Morehouse men and others in this city and around the world who seek to serve their communities.
After the moving and uplifting celebration of his life last week at Morehouse and the Civic Center, I am convinced Maynard Jackson made it in yet another way. He finally made it back to his spiritual roots, to his eternal beginning, where he joins his parents and other loved ones, his Morehouse brothers and all the host of foot soldiers in the struggle for justice who have gone before him.
Oh yes, Maynard made it.
Dr. Walter E. Massey, a 1958 graduate of Morehouse College, currently serves as the institution’s ninth president.