Remembering City Councilor E. Henry Twiggs

On Tuesday, December 3, 2020 City Councilor Jesse Lederman delivered the following eulogy in honor of the life and legacy of his friend and mentor, the late City Councilor E. Henry Twiggs.

Good Morning. It is a great honor to stand before you to remember and celebrate the life of a truly great man. It is especially an honor for me, because if I hadn’t ever met E. Henry Twiggs, I would not be the man that I am today.

For more than half of my life he was a mentor and a father figure when I needed it most. In his own way, he taught me the meaning of public service, and was the first person to suggest to me that I could run for and win elected office. I am eternally grateful to him for all that he taught me, and I will carry those lessons with me for the rest of my life.

I’ve been called upon many times in recent weeks to give testimony regarding the life of this incredible individual. It’s difficult, almost, to put it into words, because in so many ways he was larger than life.

Before I go further, I want to thank Karen, and the entire Twiggs family, for sharing him with us. We know the sacrifices you made to make it possible for him to serve this city, we are grateful to you, and we mourn with you.

E. Henry Twiggs was a warrior for justice for all people, a public servant of the best kind, and a true friend. His body of work and his dedication serve as an inspiration and a legacy that will be remembered for generations.

During the first meeting of the City Council following his passing, we devoted significant time to remarks in honor of Councilor Twiggs. The themes that stood out most were his role as the elder statesman, the one we turned to in order to facilitate difficult conversations, or break the tie on a tough issue.

His ability to be fair, balanced, and logical in his assessments, all while bringing a level of unmatched compassion to his decisions. His ability to win people over, and bring people of all different backgrounds together to fight for the causes he believed in. The role he played to make it possible for many Councilors to serve at all, and his encouragement especially of young Councilors to step into leadership roles.

And most importantly, the dedication, to his final days, to the people's work. The later nights in the chamber when we could see him struggling, when he could have gone home, but he persevered to do the job he was elected to do.

He was also appreciated for his dry and candid humor, and his many, many motions to move the question and end debate - or as he would put it - “just get on with the vote already!”

I trust that I speak for all of my colleagues on the City Council when I say that for me, the opportunity to know, to serve with, and to learn from such a man as E. Henry Twiggs was the honor of a lifetime, and he will be greatly, greatly missed in the Chambers.

E. Henry Twiggs was a different kind of a public servant - one that didn’t need a title or an office to effect change, and indeed, until the last decade of his long life, didn’t have one. That’s because for E. Henry Twiggs, his service to our city, this Commonwealth, and our country, was borne from a fire that started long ago. A yearning for justice and equality for all people, and a recognition that the system, as broken as it was and often still is, could be forced to work, but only if it was made to by the people.

E. Henry Twiggs wasn’t one to sit on the sidelines. Today, we hear the stories of his walk with Dr. Martin Luther King across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama - but what captures the true spirit of Councilman Twiggs is how he got there in the first place.

Henry Twiggs didn’t know that he was making history when he made his way to what would later be recalled as the epicenter of the Civil Rights movement to march with the man who would later be known as one of the movements most prominent and prolific leaders. He was there because his work, his passion, that fire and yearning for justice and equality led him there.

He was there IN SPITE of the fact that great danger was present, in spite of the fact that at the time Dr. King and his fellow activists was portrayed negatively by the media. He was there because he knew in his heart that it was the right thing to do. History proved him right.

I say this today because in his absence, E. Henry Twiggs would not want us to despair. He would want us to pick up the mantle. E. Henry twiggs would not want us to stand on the sidelines. He would want us to stand up and speak out. E. Henry Twiggs would not want us to fall prey to petty politics or rhetoric of fear and division. He would want us to unite, and carry on.

During his final campaign for re-election, Councilor Twiggs said:

“We need to remember history and dedicate ourselves to activism. We need to revive the spirit of the past to create a better future…”

E. Henry Twiggs term on the Springfield CIty Council expires in 27 days, but he will always be my CIty Councilor.

In many ways, I believe the conclusion of his life coinciding with the conclusion of his term is not a coincidence at all. E. Henry Twiggs left his mark on this world, and on all of our hearts. We are better for having known him, and our world is better because of him.

Our work in the upcoming term will be dedicated to his legacy - we will strive to make him proud, to see his vision realized, and as we carry on in our respective callings - we would all do well to be a little more like E. Henry Twiggs.

Today we say goodbye to our dear friend, but he’s not really gone. We know that we will meet him down the road. Wherever we encounter boldness and courage, style and humor, determination, kindness, and compassion, or perseverance in the face of adversity - we will remember you, always. God bless you all.

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