Grissett finds solace in serving public

Published 12:15 am Saturday, September 4, 2010

TALLADEGA – Liz Lunsford Grissett couldn’t believe she was walking into the council chambers just a month after her husband, Lance, passed away from cancer. Moreover, she couldn’t believe she was agreeing to be sworn in as a member of the Talledega City Council.

“I couldn’t believe I was walking in there – I won’t say filling his shoes – but filling his out his term,” said the Pike County native. “But I knew what he wanted to accomplish, and I felt like I had to finish what he’d started.”

So Grissett agreed to complete the remaining year of her husband’s term on the Talladega council, a role she says has kept her busy and surprisingly fulfilled in the seven weeks since his passing on Aug. 24.

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“I was not sure if I was emotionally up to it,” Grissett said. “But Lance and I had campaigned side-by-side. We’d visited every house in our ward together, and I knew what he wanted to accomplish.”

Stepping in to this role is, for her, a completion of the work started by her husband of 52 years and her life partner. And, in some ways, it is a path to healing. “I like this, mainly because it’s kept me busy,” she said “And that’s less time for grieving.”

Grissett’s husband, Lance, also was a Pike County native. They married at the Williams Memorial Presbyterian Church on Needmore Road and together built a life of service and family, including two sons and two daughters.

They moved to Montgomery and eventually to Talladega, where Lance served as superintendent of Talladega County Board of Education for 20 years. His post-retirement years included contract work with the State Board of Education as a consultant and interim superintendent before he decided to pursue politics for the first time nearly four years ago. He made that decision the day before qualifying ended.

“When he called me I said ‘Lance, I think that’s a tough undertaking now,’” said Troy Mayor Jimmy Lunsford, who is Grissett’s brother. “I said, ‘is the seat open?’ and he said ‘no.’

“But he won it without a runoff, so that tells you what kind of respect he had in the community.”

Lunsford said Lance Grissett’s commitment to the community was evident throughout his three years in office. “Even when he got sick with melanoma, and was going back and forth to M.D. Anderson (in Houston) for treatments, I don’t think he missed a council meeting,” Lunsford said. “And my sister was with him the entire time.”

That dedication to public service runs at the core of the Lunsford family, instilled by patriarch Grady Lunsford, father to Jimmy, Foy and Liz.

“He was an eighth-grade educated farmer but the smartest man I ever knew,” Lunsford said. “He was extremely involved in politics in the county and always wanted me to go into politics.”

What would his father think, now that his daughter has moved into public service? “My daddy would have been proud,” Lunsford said.

And so is her brother. “I’m extremely proud of her and know she’ll do a fabulous job,” he said, adding that he expects his sister will take her responsibility seriously.

“If anybody thought she was going to come in and serve out that term as a figure heard, well, that’s not going to be the way it is.”

For her part, Grissett doesn’t expect to be a figurehead. She is already tackling tough issues, from budget cuts to pushing for grant funds to address safety issues in Veterans Park and trying to find funding for much needed infrastructure repairs – all of which were important projects to her husband. “There are going to be some tough decisions that have to be made, but it’s not a popularity contest,” she said.

“If you are going to do your job, you’ve got to be willing to make the decisions … any time you’re talking about cutting back employees that’s difficult, it’s hurtful … but the belt has to be tightened, and the way I see it, every department is going to have to do that.

“But I believe things eventually will get better.”

Yet Grissett isn’t making any predictions about what the future will hold for her. “People have asked me if I’m going to run for office when this year is over and I tell them, ‘Oh, I’m not thinking about that at all. Let me just think about getting through this year.’”