Anyone who knew Kent Coleman discerned him to be more than a good legislator. He was not only a good man, but a true Southern gentleman and statesman. At first, I was hesitant about writing an article in regard to former Rep. Kent Coleman; after all, he was my political opponent six years ago. After asking a few friends and relatives, including my wife, Felicia, they all thought that it would be very appropriate, especially due to the unique relationship between us. In today’s often divisive atmosphere, particularly with politics today it appears that our country has more bitterness, hatred and conflict than ever before.
It seems like yesterday that I was standing out on the east side of the Rutherford County Courthouse when Kent walked over from his law office and said hello and invited me and my oldest son, Preston, to come visit the State Capitol and have him serve as a page for the evening. Preston was about 15 and invited one of his best friends, Jeff Hollingshead, who recently ran for Mayor of Smyrna, to go with him. The invitation, I thought, was very nice, since I had been asked by the GOP to run for the new House district that was going to be created in 2002 and Kent was to be the Democratic candidate; after much thought and prayer, I chose not to run. The opportunity he gave my son and Jeff was well appreciated, knowing that he may have planted a seed of leadership within their young lives.
One aspect of Kent that my wife appreciated was him knowing her name and sending her a birthday card each year. Anyone who has a somewhat unique name could identify with the sincerity in someone knowing their name—people would often mistakenly call her Alesha or Alyssa—but Kent cared enough to remember her name, which meant very much to her.
The years passed by and I was asked to run once again in 2010. After much consideration and prayer, I decided it was the appropriate time. The election was a hard-fought campaign and it was an uphill battle, running against an incumbent who was very well liked and well respected in the community, not only among Democrats but among Independents and by many Republicans as well. After the election, Kent quickly called me and graciously conceded, even before the votes were tallied. We had a good discussion and I asked if he would be willing to allow me to buy him lunch at the City Café in the next few weeks and he agreed.
While Kent and I were having lunch, I had asked him for advice and what to expect going into the Tennessee General Assembly. I shared with him my frustration with politics, having served previously on the Rutherford County Commission, and the often lackluster attitude of leaders today. I asked specifically about the drug and alcohol problems, and stated that most don’t seem to care. Kent responded by stating, “Mike, if they or their family have never been touched by it, they probably don’t care. Mike, consider asking Speaker Harwell to appoint you to the Health Committee—that way you can help to make effective change.” Kent was even generous enough to share some ideas for my next campaign, ideas that my own party never shared with me. I asked Speaker Beth Harwell for the appointment and served on the Health Committee, often asking and giving input on solutions to the drug and alcohol epidemic we now face.
I will admit I never knew the struggles that Kent had endured, being one of the longest survivors battling cystic fibrosis. According to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, in 1938, when the disease was first recognized, most infants never made it to their first birthday; even today, the average life expectancy for people living with CFis just 37 years of age. Kent was no doubt a fighter and a great example of someone overcoming such adversity, being one of the longest survivors of cystic fibrosis, having lived until the age of 61.
While attending Kent’s funeral recently and listening to the words of remembrance by the Reverend James K. Polk Van Zandt, Reverend Dr. John A. Hinkle Jr. and Democrat Leader Craig Fitzhugh, I was reminded of a quote by Mark Twain that states, “kindness is a language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.” Kent Coleman’s kindness shown towards me and my family will be always be appreciated.