Alderman Rupa Blackwell

Alderman Rupa Blackwell

For a few months, I’ve been pondering the word “patriot”.

Merriam- Webster lists the definition of patriot as “one who loves or supports their country.” The Oxford Language dictionary says a patriot is “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors”.

This past week, we lost a member of our community… and I lost a friend, someone who often pushed me and who I often disagreed with but loved.

This friend dedicated his life to his community, his country and steadfastly supported it.

Readers of the Tullahoma News likely remember him as the adamant Democrat, one who would go to the mat and defend Democratic policies and often used his Catholic faith as a defense. But while they often read through the pages looking to see someone’s response to Bobby’s well-formed opinions (that I didn’t always agree with, but sometimes did). They criticized him and his ideas, and I’m pretty sure I once read something that made it sound like he wasn’t enough of a defender of “our” beliefs.

Well, let me tell you, Bobby Fanning was the definition of “patriot.” (Merriam- Webster, take note). A veteran who was in the Army serving during the Korean War, he later went to mortuary school. His training there allowed him to serve his country again in one of the most difficult ways I could imagine, as an embalmer for the Air Force during Vietnam.

So yes, that fits the Oxford Language definition of “patriot” to a T, as he went to defend our country, but please forgive me for a bit while I show you how this fits into the much more permissive definition provided by Merriam- Webster.

Merriam- Webster’s definition is honestly more ambiguous than the Oxford Language one (but in thinking about this, can the writer of the OLD further define “defend” in this instance?), and I personally am more drawn to its definition. I, like most of you, identify with this definition of “patriot”- I love my country. WE love our country. We support our country. But the question I have for Merriam- Webster is how do we define “country”? Their definitions for country are based on geographical boundaries typically (though not specifically, as they reference land… a lot). Please be assured, it makes no mention of political affiliation or religion or even the type of governmental structure.

I read their definition over and over again, and they all fail to define “country” to me. To me (and I think to Bobby), the “country” we all defend and support is mostly defined by the people within it. It’s our neighbors. It’s our teachers. It’s our friends. It’s our family. It’s our workers. It’s our thinkers. It’s our in-betweeners. (No, this isn’t a Shel Silverstein book).

In the end, our country is defined by our people.

And Bobby fought for the people every single day. He defended them every single day. And even if you didn’t agree with his views, please know that his love for our country is what led him to share them- unabashedly, fearlessly, PATRIOTICALLY.

When Bobby wrote a letter to the editor, it was clear that he was writing in defense of the people. And, sharing your views in a public forum that is so open to critique, isn’t easy. But Bobby did it with grace, kindness and humility. If you knew him in person, you knew he was someone who would sit with you and listen to views different from his as well, likely while eating a sausage biscuit from Hardees.

I found Bobby’s last typewritten letter to me and held it over and over again the past few days- sad to know I won’t receive another one.

A true patriot until the end, he passed at 86 years old.