Oct. 13, 1992
Topeka Capital Journal
In my prime growing up years in Britton, Okla., one of the state’s U.S. senators was a lawyer named Thomas Pryor Gore, known as T. P. Gore, or as “TeePee” when he would use the outline of an Indian tent on his campaign literature.
This symbol and his dark complexion, which seemed even darker because of his white hair, caused most people to assume Gore was part Indian. But he wasn’t. He came from Mississippi, and he was a near-perfect picture of a politician – tall, handsome and solidly built. And, when he spoke, people listened.
He was recognized as one of the great orators of his time. Even as a teenager he was in demand as a speaker, and it was because his fame spread far beyond Mississippi that he wound up in Oklahoma and in the U.S. Senate.
There was one other thing about T.P. Gore. He was blind. Not blind in the political sense, not partially sighted in medical terms, but absolutely, totally blind. The tragic thing about it was that he wasn’t born blind, but lost his sight through two freak accidents before he was 20 years old.
Gore was born in 1870, and when he was about 7, a playmate threw a stick that hit him in his left eye. The injury didn’t seem to be serious, so nothing was done about it. Three years later, Gore was examining his brother’s crossbow when the arrow fired and hit him in his right eye. His father, a man of some means, took him to New Orleans for treatment, but nothing could be done. He lost sight in the right eye, and soon, the left I began to fail. It was too late to save it, and within 10 years he was blind.
As his sight deteriorated his father wanted to send him to a school for the blind, but he refused and stayed in the local high school. His commencement address was so good it was printed on the front page of the local newspaper. With a friend to guide him, he eventually went to Cumberland University, and both Gore and his friend graduated from law school there with honors.
Gore became the best voice in the South for the Populist party, battling the Democrats, and he also practiced law. He went to speak in Corsicana, Texas, and liked it, so he stayed and opened a law office. But there, his career almost ended.
He had an encounter with a blind girl in a hotel room, and later was charged with seduction. His trial was twice postponed, and charges finally were dropped because of lack of evidence.
Gore moved to Oklahoma in 1901 and opened a law office in Lawton in a tent. He became a Democrat, and his spellbinding oratory landed him on the ballot for the Senate when Oklahoma became a state in 1907. In those days the legislature elected the senators, and gore was one of the winners. He was reelected in 1909.
Playing on what might have been perceived as a Gore weakness, his political foes conspired in an effort to ruin him. A story broke that Gore had made improper advances to a woman in a Washington hotel room, and she sued him. The jury, probably wondering how a blind man could pursue her, exonerated him in a record 2 and a half minutes.
When World War One broke out, Gore was bitterly opposed to American involvement and the draft. It led to his defeat in 1920, but he made a comeback in 1930 and regained his Senate seat. But, he opposed president Roosevelt’s new deal, and it led to his defeat in 1936.
The winner was Josh Lee, and he became my first political villain. Here’s why: the post office in Britton always had been in the back end of my dad’s drugstore, and Gore had resisted efforts to move it. Lee, in his campaign, promised Britton a new post office, and until it was approved and built, he moved the post office to the other drug store in Britton.
Imagine the difference. Instead of all that traffic passing through my dad’s store twice a day to check on their mail, they went to the competition’s store. My dad was shell-shocked, but eventually got a measure of revenge.
By the time Lee ran again, in 1942, my dad was working for the health department traveling the state. Ignoring the rule against state employees being involved in a political campaign, he worked hard for Lee’s defeat. He was a happy man when, in a huge upset, Republican Ed Moore beat the guy who moved the post office.
Gordon died in 1949 at age 79. He should be remembered not for his political career, but for overcoming the cruel hand fate dealt him, and for giving inspiration to the blind everywhere.