Ed made the best of an opportunity
By: Dick Hodgetts
There has been a debate for centuries that you are born with “it” or you don’t have “it.” For centuries the royalty proclaimed that they were ordained by birth to be rulers and the rest of us were of minimal worth. Others have argued that we are the product of our environment, and if given the right values and role models, we all have the potential to develop into something unique. One of the reasons America has been seen as the best hope for mankind centers on our view that the individual has rights, and in the pursuit of happiness we will develop into something special.
So how does that argument impact today’s story? Ed was born into hard scrabble circumstances. He was a big kid with lots of athletic ability, and knew how to fight; and demonstrated it every day on the streets of Seattle’s waterfront. By the time he was eight, he could whip most 14 year olds. Ask them and they would concur. His Dad had been a cook in the Army, and Mom: well, Mom just disappeared often. As you might expect, an eight year old left on his own, ends up in trouble. The State of Washington took control of Ed before he was 10.
We Southerners describing Ed at this juncture in his life would start with: “well bless his heart…….” then say the most dreadful things about his upbringing and breeding. But, Ed was about to have a life changing event. He was put up for adoption when a family took Ed from the State of Washington, adopted him and made him part of their family.
Overnight he went from the streets in a dangerous port city to a Norman Rockwell type of existence. He had good role models in both his new Mom and Dad. His strong competitive streak found an outlet in sports: football, baseball, and wrestling. He goes to school every day and is expected to excel-it was not an option; but an expectation. He becomes an integral part of a family that stressed education, excellence at work, and taking responsibility for one’s self. He embraced the values of his Church. All this did not happen overnight; his Mom & Dad will tell you he tested them daily. But, he was given that situation that stirs so much talk today: opportunity. His education began even though he had not truly completed the first two grades; they started him in the third grade. High school was followed by Washington State University. He becomes part of the lumber industry up in the northwest.
When the environmentalists destroy the lumber industry in Oregon and Washington, many of its people moved to the southeast. One entire company: Georgia Pacific moves to Atlanta. Ed has the opportunity to manage a lumber operation just outside Madison
Today, you will find Ed giving to this community by coaching, mentoring, or cooking for a youth outing or an entire church dinner. He has worked with scores of youngsters in Morgan County School’s Mentoring Program. Some of those young men who graduated now own businesses in Madison and the values that Ed passed along have been absorbed by the next generation. Ed can hardly go to the grocery without some young man saying: “Coach, how you doing?”
So is Ed Lathem the product of fine breeding which instilled great values in him? Nope, he was found adrift at a key point in his life and was provided an opportunity. He made the most of it. This community is great because of the people in it. People like Ed Lathem who recognize that the lessons that our youth need: importance of education, taking responsibility, learning values; are not biologically passed along, but are instilled by folks who take the time to provide structure to those needing it. Like his parents, he joins the parenting cycle by adopting a child, followed by his own biological children. His family is defined very widely: his children, boys he coaches, kids he mentors, Church youngsters who enjoy his meals, and they all benefit from the values and the role model he presents to our children.
There are scores of ways to make a difference in Madison. You don’t have to be born to a great station in life. That argument that you are born with “it”, is put to rest when you watch Ed Lathem make a difference in the youth of Morgan County one day at a time. Year after year.
PRINTED IN THE APRIL 23, 2009 EDITION