Mrs. Shelby livens up senator’s visit

Published 12:38 am Saturday, February 21, 2015

Alabama’s senior U.S. senator, Richard Shelby, prides himself on visiting each of Alabama’s 67 counties every year.

This past week, the senator visited Andalusia Regional Hospital, where he met briefly with a small crowd before touring the facility. The conversation was similar to those in previous years. But this time, Sen. Shelby was accompanied by his wife, Kinston native Dr. Annette Nevin Shelby.

Mrs. Shelby retired from Georgetown University, where she taught in the McDonough School of Business for 20 years. She was the first woman to become a full professor in the business school, the first female business professor to get tenure and the first female emerita professor. Her bio is long and impressive, her manner genuine.

Lucky for us, Mrs. Shelby likes to visit home. The Shelbys overnighted here, and ARH invited a small crowd back to have supper with them.

After dinner, ARH CEO Steve Selzer asked the senator to share a funny story or two.

Shelby recounted a story told by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell of Maine. Mitchell was talking about a Senate filibuster, when cots were set up so that senators could take naps as they worked through the night.

Mitchell said he looked at the cots around his and spotted Sen. John Warner.

“He’s married to Elizabeth Taylor, and he’s sleeping with the Senate,” Mitchell is said to have quipped.

The energetic Shelby, who at 80 is in his fifth term and recently announced plans to run again, was asked about the presidents with whom he’s served. Reagan, he said quickly was the easiest to work with.

“He would call you up,” Shelby said. “I remember when I was new in the Senate, he invited me to breakfast at the White House. I think he thought I’d make a good Republican. I’d been a Democrat for all of my life, and he had been a Democrat, too.”

Reagan must have been persuasive, as Shelby did cross the aisle.

But the best anecdote might be the secret to the great man’s success.

“Do you play golf,” someone asked.

“Well, I used to,” he said, adding that as a young man in his 20s, he played often, working in games after work, or, as a young lawyer, taking a half-day off on Wednesday to play. He went on to say his habits didn’t set well with his wife, who was left to manage the family while he played. And then he turned the floor over to her.

“I sold his clubs,” she smiled.

It must have been a good decision.

“I made twice as much money the next year,” Shelby quipped.

The Georgetown economist obviously understood even then what it takes to be successful.

The senator still runs daily and works out, and keeps a schedule that would exhaust most people. He plans to keep it up, and that’s OK with his wife.

“It’s what he wants to do,” she said. “As long as he feels good, he should do it.”