Published 12:00 am Friday, August 15, 2008
I learned today of the passing in Oxford last Friday of a fine man, dedicated public servant and strong force for positive change – Panola County supervisor Robert Avant.
Big man, big heart, and even bigger results for his community — that’s how I’ll remember Robert. I got to know him in 1996 or 1997, when I directed the “Water 2000” rural drinking water improvement project for the Clinton Administration at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington.
Robert and I came from very different backgrounds, but we had a lot in common. It was my job to find people like him who were looking for the public funds to bring more, better drinking water to their home areas, and it was his mission to find strong support for his and his community’s dream.
The result over several years, as you know, was a multi-million dollar drinking water distribution system that was an expression of what Robert was put on earth to do and did so well — help out those who needed help most, with better water, improved housing, more hope.
I am not certain if that system serves absolutely everyone there who needed better water for a better life. But I’m convinced that without Robert Avant’s leadership, and his persistence and sense of the common good, there would have been no improvements at all.
He may not have talked about it, at least not much, but to me Robert was all about taking Dr. King’s cherished principle of equality of opportunity, rolling up his sleeves, and putting it to work to create tangible, positive changes for people. I have known many people in all parts of the country who have done what Robert did – but none who did it better, with greater commitment.
I consider myself fortunate to have known Robert Avant – and I’m sure a lot of people in Panola County feel the same way now. My sincere condolences to his family and many friends and constituents.