Tough exterior, gentle heart to be missed

Published 12:08 pm Friday, September 26, 2008

Bobby Hayes first appeared to me in 1994. He was the chairman of the Shelby County Republican Party and I was a fledging new member.

I had heard so much about him that I feared meeting him. I wondered what in the world he must look like. Out he walked with blue jeans, cowboy boots and a chew of tobacco in his cheek as large as my fist. Grinning from ear to ear he said, “Howdy.” This was the “Godfather” of Pelham? I didn’t think so, and then I saw the way he conducted a somewhat controversial meeting.

Later I found him to be a red blooded, All-American, down to earth guy. He had a boyish smile and a wink that would light up his face if you said something he liked. But there was still no doubt he was not someone you would want to cross. Then again, he was the kind of guy one would want to be in a foxhole with, parachute out of a plane or walk down a dark alley with in the middle of the night.

Throughout the years I have come to know, admire and respect Bobby Hayes. There is no doubt that he is a man who says what he means and means what he says. There is one thing that all people have to admit, whether on the same side of an issue with him or not, one never had to wonder where he stood on an issue. He would gladly tell you where he was on any issue and why.

There is a price to be paid for being a strong-willed leader. You pick up a few enemies here and there. But what’s more important is that you pick up twice as many friends and 100 percent more respect for your honesty and passion for a cause.

After all these years I have learned of Bobby Hayes’ leadership in Pelham and his former high school athletic prowess on the football field. I have learned of his career as a highly decorated paratrooper and one of the highest ranking members of the Birmingham SWAT Unit. That alone explains a lot. Bobby Hayes learned the hard way to fight for what he thought was right. He has used that personality to save lives and risked his own to do it. Not many people can say that.

The Pelham Civic Complex, the Oak Mountain amphitheatre and many other venues will be left as landmarks of his leadership. But what I will remember most is that he has a heart as big as his perceived attitude. I have seen behind the tough guy image to a man who loves people, loves his wife and family tremendously and has given most of his life to public service. All of this is true about Mayor Bobby Hayes, but what is most true is that he will be missed as mayor of Pelham.