Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

May 16, 2014

‘Ordinary’ sometimes can be extraordinary

By RONNIE ELLIS
CNHI

FRANKFORT — Regular readers know I’m sometimes pessimistic about Kentucky’s future. I frequently see the magnitude of Kentucky’s problems and the limited vision of politicians we ask to confront them.

When I was younger, I took comfort by believing solutions to serious problems take time and I and my state had plenty. I’m not so sure anymore. Maybe it’s not so much lack of optimism as a sense of impatience because I’m older and time seems short.

Yet there is hope. It’s not because I’m excited about those who want to be our next governor, U.S. Senator or even president because, frankly, I’m not.

Instead it’s because my job permits me to meet exceptional “ordinary” people. They remind me there is nothing unexceptional about humanity and life. As grubby as life and many around us can look, there are good and fascinating people in Kentucky who refuse to give up on her future.

I meet them every place my job sends me across the state. I find them in both parties, on both ends of the political spectrum, across sociological and economic classes, and often on opposite sides of bitter policy debates like coal’s proper role in Kentucky.

Together they weave a rich tapestry of Kentucky, its history and culture. They are better and more interesting and more inspirational than their leaders, though some of them are themselves leaders who lead for the right reasons and at considerable personal sacrifice.

I’ve been in my present job for almost 10 years. During my first week in Frankfort, I encountered someone who asked me if I wanted to interview volunteers who had come to the capitol to advocate for those who couldn’t afford well-heeled lobbyists to advance their cause. They were just “ordinary” citizens who sought to get their government to listen to them and their neighbors.

In a new job and somewhat unsure of myself at it, I told her, no, I didn’t think she could help because I wrote for multiple newspapers out in the state and needed to find someone from those coverage areas to quote. So, she asked, which newspapers, and I kind of absent-mindedly reeled off the names while trying to figure out who in the room I could interview.

Moments later, she was back, accompanied by four or five of the volunteers, each one from a different community served by a CNHI-owned paper. My editor loved the story I wrote because I quoted sources from CNHI communities and not the same old tired Frankfort voices. I’ve maintained professional and personal relationships with some of those people who over 10 years have made my job and my life more interesting and encouraged my hope for Kentucky. And through the same woman, I’ve met others who enrich my life: laborers, housewives, young activists, even intellectuals and authors.

Thursday I worked a political event in London when scanning the faces in the crowd, I saw her smile across the room.  As always, she sat quietly in the back, there to assist others, not to draw attention to herself. She is extremely intelligent, exceptionally well educated, highly skilled, and evidently absolutely tireless. She could easily have made a lot more money in a lot more exciting places and high profile jobs.

Instead she labors on behalf of others whose dreams are just as important but whose backgrounds didn’t offer the same opportunities, always careful to let them tell their own stories. She doesn’t want to be the story and she wouldn’t be happy if I named her.

But seeing her yesterday reminded me that people like her give me and Kentucky hope.

Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at rellis@cnhi.com. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.