"I wondered how much I had changed. I had gone to Washington a hero, described by many in the media as a 'genius.' I was returning to Georgia a loser. ... The green bird turned west toward Plains, lifted quickly into the dark sky, and was gone." - Hamilton Jordan, Jan. 21, 1981
Jordan stood on the ground at the airport in Washington waving goodbye to Jimmy Carter, his former boss and, before that, a student of Jordan's political wisdom.
Hamilton didn't know it at the time, but those closing words of his book, "Crisis: The Last Year of the Carter Presidency" also marked an end to his public career.
It wasn't long until an even more courageous and incredible battle began for Hamilton - the fight against cancer that recurred in several dark forms.
Tuesday night, Hamilton lost the battle. He was 63.
News of Hamilton's death made me remember that old journalism gimmick - guessing what a master politician might have done with just a bit more luck from on high and a bit less treachery from his associates.
Hamilton was the smartest consultant I ever knew. He also might have been the wisest of elected officials, if he could have conquered his persistent health problems and escaped the stigma of being Jimmy Carter's right-hand man to win the Senate seat he sought in 1986.
Hamilton did everything possible to beat cancer.
He never once tried to disavow Carter - as many other Southern Democrats did - to improve his career opportunities or even to win a Senate election.
Next to being a true intellectual Southerner and mastermind (the New York/Washington media couldn't fathom at the time how such a person could exist), Hamilton was a 100 percent loyalist. Turning his back on governor-then-president Carter was never considered, not even when Carter's national popularity plunged to near-record lows.
Just as cancer cut him no slack, the national political media showed no mercy in hammering Jordan from the time he arrived in Washington as Carter's top aide in 1976 through his unsuccessful bid for the Senate back in Georgia.
The Tobacco Road Republicans, who still control the Georgia GOP, used Hamilton as their whipping boy at every opportunity. Never mind that Hamilton, like former President Carter, worked on a variety of good causes, from children's health care to cutting-edge cancer research and organization of a third-way political effort. He worked behind the scenes to land the Democratic National Convention in Atlanta in 1988 - the first and last national political convention held in the Southern capital.
"My admiration and respect for Hamilton grew since I met him in the early Carter years," says Bert Lance, also a Carter stalwart and friend of Jordan. "He was truly the personification of courage."
In his presidential memoir "Keeping the Faith," Carter wrote: "Hamilton was more seriously misunderstood and underestimated by the press and public than anyone else who worked in my administration. A brilliant political analyst who had devised and managed my presidential campaign, he worked long hours through the most difficult decisions."
During Carter's tenure as governor, Hamilton as his chief of staff took over the reins of state government.
When Carter went to the White House, Hamilton was a key player in the president's triumphs - from the Camp David Accords to the Panama Canal Treaty that prevented a civil war. He also suffered with Carter the agonies of the Iran hostage disaster and the crumbling American economy.
After he left Washington, he wrote "Crisis" - what I believe is the most insightful book of the Carter administration. You ought to read it if you're interested in inside accounts of White House doings. "Crisis" is the best book of its kind.
He also wrote extensively and in great detail about the onset of cancer and his struggle to beat it. I had the honor of helping compose one of those pieces. He schemed with his pals a couple of times to get back into the national circus. He helped direct Ross Perot's independent presidential campaign and launched a couple of other things. The cancer was too much.
Hamilton's death finally ended a career that might have achieved wonders in getting our nation and state back onto a worthy track to opportunity and prosperity for all.
You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or Web address: billshipponline.com.