As of this month, little Camden, Alabama now claims an incumbent United States Senator, an incumbent member of the U.S. House of Representatives, the incumbent Lieutenant Governor of the State of Alabama, and now the President of the University of Alabama.
Camden is the county seat of rural Wilcox County. The town’s population consists of about 2,000 folks. How has this tiny hamlet produced such a stable of leaders?
As an example of how extraordinary this is, let’s extrapolate. Mobile, Alabama’s population is 195,000. If Mobile had produced leaders at the same rate as Camden, the city should have 388 individuals currently serving as college presidents, in state constitutional offices and in the United State Senate and House of Representatives.
But hey, I can count only four in Mobile. And two of them are originally from Camden!
So what’s the difference?
The best known of these Camden, Alabama leaders may be Jeff Sessions. From 1981 to 1993 he served as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Alabama. Older Alabamians may remember that President Ronald Reagan nominated him to a federal judgeship in 1986, but that appointment was blocked by Sen. Ted Kennedy and his colleagues. Sessions was elected Attorney General of Alabamain 1994. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996 and easily re-elected in 2002 and 2008. He is a leader among conservatives in Washington and a strong voice for those principles in the Senate.
Also serving in Washington is Camden native Jo Bonner. In 2002, Bonner ran for the House seat vacated by retiring Republican U.S. Representative Sonny Callahan, whom Bonner had served as Chief of Staff. He has been re-elected every two years since. With Republican control of the House of Representatives and with his seniority and winning personality, Bonner has become an influential member of Congress.
The Lieutenant Governor of Alabama, Kay Ivey, is also a Camden native. In her second run for statewide office, Republican Ivey was elected State Treasurer in 2002 by beating Stephen Black, the grandson of former United States Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. She was re-elected four years later. In 2010, Ivey defeated Democratic incumbent Lieutenant Governor Jim Folsom, Jr., who was seeking an unprecedented fourth term.
And just in the last few days, Camden native Judy Bonner was named President of the University of Alabama by the Board of Trustees of that 30,000 student institution. Bonner served as interim president from March to July this year after UA’s former president, Robert Witt, was appointed chancellor of the University of Alabama system. She has held faculty positions at UA, the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Ohio State University. And yes, she’s the older sister of Congressman Jo Bonner, above.
So what is it about Camden that produces these leaders in such disproportionate numbers? I don’t know for sure. What I do know is that these four individuals had really good parents who were involved their community, who placed a strong emphasis on education and who went the extra mile in raising their kids. A lot of people in Camden are like that.
And now for the author’s disclaimer: I’m bragging.
You see, I’m also from Wilcox County. I grew up with these folks. I went to school with them. They’re all “good people.” I’m proud of them!
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Other posts by Will Bruce:
The William Bruce Business Discussion (a tad more serious)