The voice on the other end of the phone was weak and frail. Not the booming voice that used to reverberate throughout the courthouse when he yelled pleasantries across the hall to another county official, or when he leaned over the railing outside the commissioners’ office to give suggestions to a county employee down on the first floor.
Some time ago, David Bailey, our former county commissioner and my good friend for more than 40 years, was calling to ask a favor.
“Pat, would you make me a promise?” Dave asked intently.
“Sure,” I responded. “What is it?”
“Would you write an article about me when I’m gone?” he asked. “I’m dying, you know.”
Dave’s question had caught me completely off guard. I remember searching for words and mumbling something about the fact I was sure he would live for a long time, and we wouldn’t have to worry about that.
But sadly, I was wrong. Dave Bailey died quietly at his home on Wednesday, January 29, 2020 at about 8 a.m.
As I sat down at the computer to fulfill my earlier promise to Dave, I found that the right words came slowly. He was a complex man, a pleasant man, an outgoing man with a caring personality, a man with a wonderful sense of humor, a man who had always been larger than life in a way.
Dave adored his wife, Connie.
He was a gregarious individual full of laughter, but he also had a quiet, caring side that only those closest were privy to see. He had sensitivity and a deep spirituality that was most clear when he was helping people.
I must confess, as I collected my thoughts to write this piece, I have found myself thinking not so much about this story as about the man himself, and what his has life meant to Clinton County, and to his friends and family.
I have always found Dave to be a man of the most interesting contradictions. He loved children, and yet, he could cuss a blue streak in the blink of an eye.
In these days of political correctness, Dave still called every waitress “honey.”
I called our mutual friend, Nancy McKay, who had known Dave since she was a young girl. Nancy had served as the long-time clerk for the county commissioners when Dave was in office.
She told me that 30-plus years ago when she was pregnant with her son, Jonathan, she was on duty in the commissioners’ office and felt the birth was imminent. Midway through the morning, Nancy said quietly, “Gentlemen, I think I’m going to have this baby soon, and I need to leave.”
Nancy’s words caused a slight panic among the commissioners. No one knew what to do.
Finally, Dave stood up, flustered, and in his resonant voice, did what he did best.
“I make a motion to allow Nancy go have the baby!” he said. Another commissioner even seconded the motion, and Nancy dashed to the hospital where her son was born just a few hours later.
Nancy then recounted a story when she was 12 or 12 years old, babysitting one afternoon with Dave and Connie’s young daughters, Katie and Laura, at their home near Burtonville.
Nancy soon heard a knock on the front door. The girls were napping, and Nancy answered the door. Standing in front of her was a tall, well-dressed man in a suit, with every hair in place. “Can I help you?” Nancy asked.
The man said, “Hi, I’m Bob McEwen. I’m on my way back to Hillsboro and wanted to say hello to David.”
Nancy said she knew of Mr. McEwen, who was a state representative at the time, but that was all she knew. She politely told him David and Connie were not at home, and they had instructed her not to allow anyone into their house while they were gone.
Bob then told Nancy that he just wanted to say hi and asked if he could come inside to use the telephone. Nancy said, “No! I’m in charge of the girls and I don’t know you.”
The state representative simply didn’t know what to say, but he headed back to Wilmington to try to locate Dave. When David and Connie returned home, he told Nancy that Bob McEwen had told him the story. Dave bellowed as he recounted the story.
He loved politics, but he loved his family more.
David Bailey loved Clinton County, and Clinton County loved him. He was a staunch, conservative Republican. He was fiercely, happily partisan, and his political fights were tough. He gave as good as he got, and you could see that he loved the battle.
As time passes and the tears dry, we will realize Dave’s life was one well-lived. He touched us in that place within our souls that bears remembrance.
Schiller said, “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
The last time I spoke to Dave I remember he calmly told me. “I am at peace. My house is in order. I’m going to be just fine. Don’t worry about me.”
And we won’t worry.
We know Dave is in good hands. God is waiting with open arms.
Pat Haley is a former Clinton County Commissioner and Clinton County Sheriff.