W ESLEY CHAPEL - The path from unsuspecting citizen to elective office rarely is straight and well-marked - there just aren't that many John Leggs among us - but considering the route followed by Tony Lister to his new role as San Antonio city commissioner, he may be part Sherpa.
Talk about your long and winding roads.As recently as the Clinton administration, Lister
was in early life purgatory, grunting and sweating through a three-week catharsis at one of the plant nursery farms that dominate the economy of Semmes, Ala., a tiny town outside Mobile where he
grew up. Lister
found himself there having interrupted pursuit of an ill- defined associate of arts degree.Never mind that he
had vowed to his
mother, in the final stages of the cancer that took her
senior year of high school, that he
would go to college and graduate.
Dragging depression like an anvil, Lister
had, until his
detour into horticulture, majored "in college," particularly the curriculum that involved pitchers and kegs.Lister concedes he spent three years earning a two-year community college degree, including the stint down on the farm.
"It was awful," Lister
says in a honeyed south Alabama drawl."I figured I could work at least as hard in college."
Burning For History
Few would have suggested then Lister
was a bonfire of academic passion hungry for a match.When he
made it to the University of South Alabama
, though, he
happened upon a certain charismatic Doc Brown teaching South American history, touching off a spark that became a conflagration. Inspired, Lister got the degree he'd promised, then added a master's.Now a member of the social studies wing at Wesley Chapel High School, Lister is the perfect academic furnace, converting mountains of historical fuel into equal measures of tutorial heat. He
has become passion in action, eager to light pilot flames in a population whose interest in history extends only to VH1 Classic.Because of that sleeve-worn zeal, Lister will become a member of San Antonio's lawmaking body next month, elected by acclamation when no one else chose to run for the seat being surrendered by four-term commissioner Dennis Phillips.
At 33, Lister
is a regular Jefferson Smith, Jimmy Stewart's everyman character drafted into the U.S. Senate
Although registered as an independent, Lister
describes himself as politically conservative, as is his
wife, Jennifer, an audiologist and professor at the University of South Florida
would be "perfect" for the commission, the last of his
path leads from here is anybody's guess.For the moment, he
is happy to set up camp at city hall, a civic model for all to see, and some, perhaps, to emulate.