When Bill Lightle was growing up he remembers his dad always fighting for the underdog, the workingman, and that has always stayed with him and influenced how he has treated others in his life. His dad built airplanes in Muncie, Indiana and then when that plant was closed down in 1966, the family moved to Albany, Georgia. That was the same year the Braves came to Atlanta.
The senior Lightle worked at an airplane manufacturing plant in Albany and soon became involved in trying to improve the lot of his fellow workers. He was eventually able to secure a raise for the underpaid employees of the plant.
Pretty soon after that, some members of the local Chamber of Commerce came rolling up to the factory to have a talk with Mr. Lightle. One of them told him that he needed to stop his campaign to get the workers a wage increase because it would then force other businesses in the region to have to pay their own employees a decent living wage. Looking him square in the eye, Mr. Lightle told “the SOB to get back in his car and never come back to the plant again.”
That event left an indelible mark on Bill Lightle. It made his father a hero in his eyes. He saw his father standing up to the powers-that-be to make the lives of the less powerful just a little bit better. And it gave Bill the determination to fight for justice throughout his life. “Millionaires don’t need help,” Bill says.
After a period working as a newspaperman, Bill tried his hand at writing books. He’s authored several works ranging in subject matter from a memoir of childhood to high school football stories to a series of murder mysteries. In his book “Mill Daddy,” he tells the story of Roy Davis, who came from sharecropping roots in the Great Depression and worked in a Georgia cotton mill, and it has been described as storytelling in the vein of John Steinbeck and Erskine Caldwell.
Bill soon found his true calling as a teacher and spent the last six years of a 29-year career teaching History at Fayette County High School. Many of his former students, such as Grace Johnson, still consider him their favorite teacher. She says he always made the students feel like they were important.
His love of the classroom and the immeasurable impact he could see that education had on his students’ lives have now led him into a new arena, one in which he hopes he will have as much of an impact on the lives of the citizens of Georgia’s 16th Senate District. Others agree. This district has too long been represented in the Legislature by self-interested folks who don’t keep the real, day-to-day needs of the people in mind. Bill has been endorsed by the Georgia Association of Educators and this should go a long way in places like Fayette County, considering the great pride the county has in its school system.
Lightle feels that education really starts at home, though, and that some students have a disadvantage in school due to a less than ideal home life.
“Families with financial and health security send children to school who are more prepared to learn than children who live in poverty,” he says.
That’s why Lightle supports an increase in the minimum wage and wants Georgia to accept the Medicaid expansion that will keep the doors of Georgia’s failing rural hospitals from closing.
Another issue important to Lightle also has connections to his years of teaching. That is the recent attempt by some in the Legislature (and foolishly by most of the Fayette County Board of Commissioners) to support the so-called religious-freedom-to-discriminate bill. Aside from hurting business and growth, it is just not the right thing to do, according to Lightle.
“It’s wrong. It’s a moral issue. That’s why I’m in this race. Every day I taught gay and lesbian children, and one of the implications of that bill is that it would treat my classroom students differently simply because of who they are,” says Lightle.
“There are a lot of goodhearted people here in this county, this district, this state. It’s not who we are. It’s not who we want to be.”
Lightle fears that if his opponent, who is the main proponent of the discriminatory bill, is not replaced and if Brian Kemp is elected governor, then the bill will be reintroduced and signed into law, staining the reputation of the state AND our own district as the origin of the anti-gay policy.
Bill says, “People of goodwill can compromise on almost every issue, but there must not be compromise with bigotry and division. Hatred is unacceptable as an American value and must not be tolerated.
“Someday soon, legislators who are pro-RFRA (anti-gay bill), will be looked upon as George Wallace is today, as bigots.”
Another subject close to Bill’s heart is the issue of medicinal cannabis. He has seen first-hand the relief that the medicine can bring to a family that is suffering daily. And while the laws in Georgia are slowly changing to allow more and more medical conditions to be eligible for treatment with the plant, access to the medicine is still restricted by Georgia law. Basically, those with the ID can use it, but acquiring it is not allowed. It’s a system Jonathan Swift might have come up with.
Bill wants to change that. “Pass the law, grow it here, market it here, and help families,” he asserts.
And that’s really what Bill Lightle is all about: helping families. He’s not in it for himself. He has no interests other than improving the lives of his neighbors and fellow citizens. To keep the selfish and powerful from taking advantage of the less fortunate among us. One could even imagine Bill, standing in the Senate chamber, telling those malevolent interests to get back in their cars and never come back….just like his daddy taught him so many years ago.
Christopher Fairchild is the editor of Panacea magazine and Welcome to Fayette magazine, and works as a photographer and graphic designer for Fayette Newspapers