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Despite a life-changing injury, Rusty Kidd is persistent in his dedication to his hometown.

“I lost my concentration and ran off the road. You know, you have the pavement part and the dirt part, and I’ve seen cars flip after running off the road. Try it on two wheels. 

“My motorcycle flipped me into the middle of the road, and for a long time I thought it had thrown me into the guard rail -- until I (later) read the police report. 

“The first motorcyclist behind me swerved and missed me. The second motorcyclist thought he was going to run over me -- and I wish he had. He laid his bike down on the payment -- and like you see on TV, some slide smoothly and some catch a tire and bounce. 

“This one bounced. A 750-pound motorcycle bounced and landed on my back. It broke all my ribs, crushed both lungs, crushed vertebra . . . 

“And here I am.”

 

BIG VISION

Edwards Culver “Rusty” Kidd III maintains a work-a-day routine “like everybody else” despite being paralyzed from the chest down in the motorcycle accident 20 years ago. 

He sits in a wheelchair in the Kidd & Associates office at the corner of Wayne and Hancock in downtown Milledgeville, where his father’s store was located starting in the late ‘50s. Kidd’s Drugstore was the town Walmart before there was a Walmart. On one side, it had a luncheonette that served three meals a day from 6:30 a.m. until 9 p.m. On the other side was everything else -- everything from fishing rods and guns to jewelry -- and ducks, chickens and rabbits at Easter.

Kidd sits in his big office behind a big desk, underneath a big surgical light that was used in a London hospital. Behind him is a painting of a big chicken. 

It figures.

Rusty Kidd has a big personality. He’s a big storyteller. He was big when he was the starting quarterback for Baldwin High School as a ninth grader. “I was 6-foot-2, or 6-3, and the other quarterback was 5-9,” Kidd said.

And, above all, he has big dreams for his hometown. 

It’s what keeps him going. 

“Getting up in the morning,” driving himself to his office and trying to help people are the things that make his day. His attendant helps Kidd get out of bed, shower and get dressed. He’s at his office by 9 or 9:30, five days a week, and stays until around 3:30 or 4. 

His door is always open.

“People walk in off the street looking for help on this or that,” Kidd said. “Most I try to help, or others I can refer to (current Representative) Rick Williams.”

He loves to talk politics and tell stories about friends and foes from his 40-plus years as a lobbyist and eight years (2009-2016) as a member of the Georgia House of Representatives. 

Health care continues to be one of his biggest interests after years of lobbying for health-related businesses such as the Medical Association of Georgia, Hospital Corporation of America and University Hospital in Augusta. 

Kidd had a recent meeting with Gov. Brian Kemp to discuss, among other things, who should be appointed to fill the remaining term of U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson. 

His local interests include Baldwin County growth, possible consolidation, redevelopment at Central State Hospital, term limits, casinos and better job training. 

HELP WITH RECOVERY

Lord knows, Kidd has had his share of pain.

There were about 15 motorcyclists riding on the Blue Ridge Parkway in Tennessee when Kidd had his accident. A doctor friend of Kidd’s was in the group, up ahead. The doctor circled back and insisted that Kidd should be airlifted to the Trauma Center in Asheville, N.C. But it was full, so the helicopter took him to the Tri-Cities Hospital in Johnson City, Tenn.

“Had I gone in an ambulance, I would have died,” Kidd said. “As it was, I was Code Blue (all hands on deck, a patient is dying) about four or five times.”

He had to be stabilized before doctors could operate because his heart rate was around 220, way above a normal heart beat of around 80. He wound up staying in Johnson City for almost a month, but doctors knew he needed to be in a hospital that offered more advanced treatment.

He was finally flown to Shepherd Spinal Center in Atlanta. Doctors there said he never should have been transported because he still was too sick.

Kidd stayed at Shepherd for three months, then was moved to what he called a “halfway house,” a nearby apartment so he could continue treatment at Shepherd on an out-patient basis.

At Shepherd, a nurse’s aide named Claude Gilbert was assigned to him. It turned out to be one of the best things that happened to Kidd as he started to rebuild his life being wheelchair-bound.

Kidd told Gilbert to give him a call if he ever left Shepherd, and Gilbert did. At first, Gilbert would come to Milledgeville during the week and return to Atlanta on weekends. But he grew to like Milledgeville and moved here full time to become Kidd’s attendant. 

“He’s a very, very nice guy,” Kidd said. “He’s a soft-spoken guy. He’s been with me about 18 years. I have never heard him say a cuss word or bad-mouth anybody. He’s like a brother to me.

“My family and myself, we don’t know what we would have done without him,” said Kidd, who is divorced with two children. “I don’t have the foggiest idea what we would have done.

“People don’t realize what I have to go through. I can’t tell you whether I’m hungry or full. I can’t feel my stomach. I can eat a slice of pizza or a whole pizza and I can’t tell the difference.

“I saw people in wheelchairs all my life. I never realized what they have to go though. It’s a big challenge . . . a very big challenge.”

 

BUDDIES FOR LIFE

Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee and Kidd have been best friends since childhood. They lived a short bike ride away from each other in Carrington Woods. 

“In those days, since we didn’t have TV sets, people would sit on their front porches shelling peas and shucking corn,” said Kidd, 73. “Bill and I spent every afternoon playing football or basketball or something like that until it got dark and we had to go home.

“Bill’s sister Keith and my older sister Tillie were the same age, so we did a lot of family stuff together.”

Kidd said his first fight was with Massee when they were in the first grade.

“My mother and his mother were in the car talking, and we were out in the ditch rolling around, fighting with each other,” Kidd said. “They were looking at us but figured we’d be all right and they let us fight for a while. I always say I kicked his butt and he says he kicked mine. We probably just got tired and quit.”

The trust that developed in their childhood played a big part in a mishap Kidd had a decade or so after his motorcycle accident.

A step broke and the person helping Kidd come down some stairs in his wheelchair landed on his head. Kidd said he knew his neck was broken because he heard it pop. He would not let people move him to the sidewalk until paramedics came and put a brace on his neck. “I could have wound up a quadriplegic,” he said.

Kidd was airlifted to Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta. Massee, in his car, almost beat the helicopter there.

“My oldest friend was in crisis,” Massee said. “I wasn’t sure he would live. I had to be there.”

Kidd wanted Massee there because “he knows how I feel. He didn’t want them doing things to keep me alive if I was going to be in worse shape.

“He knows that if I am on the side of the road and I end up worse off than I am now, leave me on the side of the road.”

But miraculously, the broken neck did not affect his mobility. Six days later, he was back at work. 

 

CALLING HIS OWN PLAYS

As the only independent to be elected and to serve in the Georgia State Legislature, Kidd has always called his own plays, sometimes literally.

After starting at quarterback for Baldwin as a 9th- and 10th-grader, Kidd transferred to Baylor Prep School in Chattanooga, Tenn., where he was good enough to earn football scholarship offers from over 60 schools before signing with the University of Tennessee. 

At Baylor, Kidd played quarterback  under legendary coach Jim Worthington, who is now 95 and living in Atlanta. Worthington coached many players who went on to stardom in college and the pros, including College and Pro Football Hall of Fame offensive lineman John Hannah.

Like many coaches, Worthington would send in the plays for his offense. In one game, Worthington sent in a play for the 2-yard line when the team was actually on the 15-yard line. Kidd knew it was the wrong play so he changed it in the huddle and Baylor scored.

As Kidd ran off the field, he was met by coach Worthington “hitting me on my helmet with his clip board and dog-cussing me. I said, ‘Coach, we scored.’ He said, ‘I don’t care if we scored or not. You run the play that I sent in.’ “

Finally, after Worthington calmed down, Kidd told him he sent in the wrong play.

“He told me if I ever did it again, I’d better have an equal excuse,” Kidd said, laughing.

As an independent member of the Georgia House, Kidd kept right on calling his own plays. He loves to tell the old joke that his entire caucus could fit in a phone booth.

He didn’t want to caucus with the democrats because they were the minority party. The republicans said if he wanted to caucus with them, put an “R” behind his name. So they kicked him out of the room. “Shoot, “ Kidd said to himself, “I’ve been kicked out of better places than this.”

Today, Kidd said, “all you hear about is fighting between this side and that side -- across the aisle. That’s garbage. You’ve got your weirdos on the left and your weirdos on the right. The vast majority are in the middle. 

“Many become puppets to the leadership in the parties. They have a choice if they have guts enough to stand up to them. But most of them don’t.”

As an independent legislator, Kidd said he thought he could make a difference.

“I thought I could help Milledgeville,” he said. “I think I did help Milledgeville. Milledgeville needed some help back then, and it still needs some help. 

“I was already in a wheelchair during my term in the legislature. The pain got to be pretty substantial. I felt like I couldn’t do the job as good as I should be able to do it.”

 

HERE’S THE DEAL 

Rusty’s dad, Edwards Culver Kidd Jr., was the consummate politician. He knew how to close a deal.

So, fittingly, Rusty came into this world as the result of a deal. The Kidds already had two girls and Culver wanted a boy. 

“So he talked my mother into getting pregnant again,” Kidd said. “But she said under one condition. She said my dad had to get out of politics. He said OK.”

Culver didn’t keep his end of the deal. In 1946, the year Rusty was born, Culver was first elected to the Georgia House of Representatives.

Thus was born a political dynasty that lasted for 70 years in the Georgia capitol.

It continues today in the building that Culver purchased in Milledgeville in 1959.

“I’ve been Rusty’s lifelong friend through the good times and the bad times,” Sheriff Massee said. “There was a dramatic change in his life 20 years ago when he had the accident, him being confined to a wheelchair. But he never quit.

“From the time he found out (he was partially paralyzed), his attitude toward his life, his family and his community never changed. He is involved in the community. He treats the community as his family.”

Kidd said his worst days are Saturdays and Sundays, when he has “nowhere specifically to go.” No one to talk to. No one to help.

But when Monday comes, he’ll be up and at it again.

Somebody will need his help.

 

— Reach Rick Millians at rdmillians@aol.com

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