RadicalJacksonian

Opinions,discussions and common ground on the Democracy of the United States and Macon County "Democracy is the cause of Humanity."--John L. O'Sullivan

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

STANDING ON THEIR SHOULDERS: AN OCCASIONAL SERIES ON MACON COUNTY DEMOCRATS

STANDING ON THEIR SHOULDERS: AN OCCASIONAL SERIES ON MACON COUNTY DEMOCRATS
I--ROY ANTHONY

While many people were and continue to be responsible for the rise and dominance of the Macon County Democratic Party, if you had to pick one person whose role was indispensable Roy Anthony would be a good choice. Although at the time of his sudden death on March 28, 1981, Anthony had not held an "official" position for a number of years, he remained a considerable force in local and state politics. A common comment for years after his passing was, "Gee, I wish Roy Anthony were here to help us work this problem out."

Eulogizing Anthony, John Dunn hit upon a key to his remarkable success by noting that the lifelong bachelor made the Macon County Democratic Party his family. He rose from leader of a dissident faction to precinct committeeman to county chair and state central committeeman. He was courted by governors, presidents, and anyone who wanted to advance in the Democratic Party. At the same time, he was modest, soft-spoken and about as beloved as a politician can ever hope to be.

Only 57 when he died, Anthony was a crew dispatcher for the Norfolk & Western Railway Co., who consistently refused to take any patronage jobs.

"Roy Anthony was one of the great men of our state," said U.S. Senator Alan Dixon the day Anthony died. "He possessed the greatest of attributes--compassion, honesty and intelligence."

Anthony's political rise can be traced back to controversies that tore the Macon County Democracy apart in the mid-1950s. The dominant faction had been in control for many years and the young Turks led by Anthony, Marge Nuding and others. Anthony and the others formed their own organization, the original Jefferson-Jackson Club and rented quarters in the old hotel that housed Dante's Restaurant.

Meeting regularly and hosting social events, the group steadily gained in power and influence. Candidates backed by the Jefferson-Jackson group not only won contested precinct committeemen races but actually beat the then-party chair in his precinct. Anthony himself defeated the party chair in the 1958 race for state central committeeman.

In a move that would mark his future course, Anthony stepped back in 1960 to unite with others around the successful candidacy for party chair of the late Robert M. Owen, father of Rob Owen and uncle of Bruce Owen. At the time of Anthony's death, Robert M. Owen recalled, "He (Anthony) was certainly a driving force in getting some change into the party, bringing in some young folks, and making the party's base broader."

Two years later, when Owen decided not to seek re-election, Anthony became party chair, a post he held for several years. During this time, Macon County Democrats gained a lock on most county offices, though the county board remained a frustration until changes in election dates in 1976 put board seats on the November general election ballot rather than the spring period.


Anthony's style was low-key and friendly. Ironically, the man who built the modern Macon County Democratic Party was the son of a Republican. Not surprisingly, one of the converts Anthony made to the Democracy was his own father. Another was Steve Bean, who grew up across the street from Anthony. On Friday nights while Bean's parents worked at their furniture store, Anthony would come across the street and baby-sit Steve and his siblings. "He was my political father," Bean remembered at the time of Anthony's passing.

When factionalism within the state party became particularly bitter during the Dan Walker administration, Anthony decided to step down from the state central committee on which he served as secretary. However, he quickly transitioned into a behind-the-scenes role and when then-President Jimmy Carter passed through Illinois on a riverboat; Anthony was one of the people he met with.

Although a committed partisan, Anthony did not take politics personally. One of his last visitors at DMH before he died was H.G. "Skinny" Taylor, long-time chair of the Macon County Republican Party. "Roy was a great guy, a dedicated Democrat and a credit to politics," Taylor said upon learning of Anthony's death. "His word was his bond."

The words former State Senator Robert W. McCarthy spoke in March 1981 are as true today as they were then:

"The party needed him and needs him today. Guys like Roy Anthony with their perseverance don't come along all the time."