“Mr. Elliott had a wonderful expression, and it was the highest honor anybody could receive. He called you ‘friend of the long road.’ I look at this crowd and it’s filled with friends of the long road,” said Julian Butler, a Huntsville attorney.
Butler was an assistant to Elliott in Washington D.C. and remains a friend of the family.
Elliott’s great-grandson, Carl Elliott IV, placed a wreath on his grave during the brief ceremony.
Others recalled Elliott’s love of literature and memorialized him with the reading of poems.
Butler recited “The Bridge Builder,” a piece he also read at Elliott’s funeral in 1999. The protagonist, an old man, builds a bridge across a chasm he has safely crossed so that a young man following after him will be able to pass through more easily.
“I’ve always thought it describes Carl Elliott perfectly when you think of the difficulty he had in getting a college education at the University of Alabama and his dedication as a member of Congress to be sure that no qualified young man or woman would ever have the problems he had,” Butler said.
Mary Jolley, who also worked for Elliott and remained a lifelong friend, recalled how the Congressman used to read “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” to his staff at the end of long days.
Jolley said she often wondered how he could find solace in such a serious poem.
“I think it reminded him of his northwest Alabama rural setting where he grew up, and it reminded him of ordinary people who were born into poverty. Yet the poem laments that this was probably wasted potential, that they could have done great things had they had an opportunity,” Jolley said.
Elliott’s daughter, Lenora Cannon, said the Congressman often expressed his feelings through poetry, Shakespeare and the Bible.
He recited “Invictus” the night his beloved wife, Jane, died.
Upon hearing the news that his friend John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in 1963, Elliott turned to lines from Mark Antony’s speech at Caesar’s funeral: “My heart is in the coffin there with Caesar, And I must pause till it come back to me.”
Cannon read a passage from John Donne’s Meditation XVII that she said reminded her of her father’s love for books: “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated; God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.”
Carl Elliott III told the crowd that his grandfather, father, Carl Elliott Jr., and uncle, John Elliott, taught him the importance of character, courage and perseverance.
“Character is to always try to do the right thing. Courage is to stand up for the right thing. Perseverance is that no matter what happens — and we’ve had a lot of trials and tribulations — to take another step forward and keep going,” Elliott said.
Elliott’s nephew, Walker County Circuit Court Judge Hoyt Elliott, also expressed how his family’s legacy of courage and goodwill had influenced his life.
“There is not a week that goes by that somebody doesn’t mention Uncle Carl and tell of some kindness he did for them,” Elliott said.
Local resident PJ Magik also shared her favorite Elliott quote: “Education represents nothing less than the doorway to personal fulfillment, social justice, true freedom and actual equality.”
Among other places, the quote can be found on the homepage of Buildings & Books, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit that builds community libraries in Africa — a sign that Elliott continues to influence the lives of those who never knew him.
“One hundred years ago, a wonderful journey began. Walker County, Franklin County, Alabama, the nation, the world are richer because Carl Elliott walked the long road,” Butler said at the conclusion of the ceremony.