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O’Bannon: a truly nice man, almost part of my family

I’ve been going to the Indiana Democratic Editorial Association (IDEA) annual summer convention in French Lick for many years and have enjoyed the last seven of those years at the Saturday night IDEA governor’s banquet with Frank and Judy O’Bannon.
I have always said the same thing when anyone has asked me about my impression of Gov. Frank O’Bannon: ‘He is truly a nice man.’
Regardless of political affiliation or discord, I know that anyone who has ever sat down with Gov. O’Bannon and/or his wife, Judy, could not think of them as anything but gracious and congenial and, well, nice.
We live in a world where ‘nice politician’ is almost an oxymoron, so talking with Gov. O’Bannon was always a pleasant surprise.
When I heard that the governor had suffered a massive stroke while in Chicago Monday morning for a conference, it was as though a dear relative had suddenly taken ill. When I read that he was in an induced coma and in critical condition, I thought of his family and how heartbroken and worried they must be. It was almost as if he was a part of my own extended family, because that’s the way Gov. O’Bannon made me feel when he spoke to me, even if it was just a brief greeting and handshake.
Six years ago, I snapped a photo of the governor as he sang old songs with a group of people at a player piano during a late night sing-a-long at French Lick. He is open-mouthed and smiling, singing with gusto, surrounded by friends; the camaraderie and genuine affection between the subjects shines through, even in the flatness of the black and white photo. Because I knew him to be approachable and thought he might enjoy the picture, I sent him a copy, never expecting to hear a reply.
Within days I received a handwritten note on one of the governor’s embossed notecards. ‘Dear Viv,’ it read, ‘Thank you so much for the photo. It means a lot to me. I am surrounded by longtime friends at a traditional event that is close to my heart. Thank you for thinking of me … Frank.’
Wow. Not even a last name or a title in front of his name. But then, that’s Gov. Frank O’Bannon.
May God bless and carry him, and his family, through this heartwrenching and emotionally trying time in their lives.

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