Former Congressman John Linder talks in his office at his Myrtle, Miss. home. The room shows some of the only remaining relics from his decades in politics. (Staff Photo: Camie Young)
The only thing lacking John Linder’s life as a politician was privacy.
A local dentist who was already a familiar face, Linder became even more recognizable as he joined the Georgia General Assembly then became Gwinnett’s congressman.
Even a trip to the grocery store often resulted in a talk with a constituent or a complaint from a voter. “I was happy to do it, but I missed my privacy,” Linder said.
Three years after retirement, though, Linder is living an anonymous life in rural Mississippi.
Sometimes days could go by with only his wife and maybe a grandson for company, and that is just how he likes it.
“I don’t have any schedule for the first time in 40 years,” Linder said, donning a hat to take an ATV ride through his acreage, full of timber and fields and abutting a national forest. “I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do, and I don’t have to agree with anybody.”
After a lifetime of politics and 18 years in Congress, Linder stepped away from politics three years ago, without much fanfare.
On 835 acres in Myrtle, Miss. he bought originally for timber harvesting, Linder and his wife built a huge house with enough room for the grandkids, and retired.
He didn’t worry much about the campaign to replace him, although he did endorse his former chief of staff Rob Woodall, who eventually won the job among a slew of contenders.
And he knows little more than what he reads in the paper about the local politics in the place he now calls home.
“I was ready to leave. I’m not missing it,” Linder said. “I’m content.”
Linder said he does keep up with Gwinnett, reading the Daily Post online, and he keeps in touch with a handful of friends from two states away. But only occassionally will he talk to Woodall or other former staffers.
And occasionally, like earlier this summer, a national debate will cause him to write a guest opinion, such as the one he submitted to the GDP on immigration in July.
“You get a different perspective once you’re not immersed in it,” he said of the issues and politics he keeps an eye on from afar.
Once a national figure on tax reform, as the author of the proposed FairTax, which Woodall now carries in Congress, Linder, who turns 71 this month, leaves the job to the younger generation. And he has only put on a suit twice in three years, once for a funeral.
(By the way, Linder has remained in touch with Neil Boortz, the Atlanta radio personality who co-authored a best-selling book on the subject with him, but who now also lives a lower profile life after retiring last year.)
When Linder left Gwinnett, he was in talks with officials from the University of Mississippi, about an hour away, to teach or hold seminars, but Linder soon found that his conservative leanings didn’t jibe with the liberal college professors and the plan never moved forward.
Instead, Linder finds plenty to do. He fishes with the grandkids, hunts dove with his son-in-law, putters on the boat on his own private lake, reads suspense novels and he spends a few hours every week on a tractor, with his dog … following each step.
“It’s just the next step,” he said of retirement, adding that his life has progressed — from state politics to national, from business to business — in much the same manner. “I never did envision (the future). I didn’t ever really have goals. I just did the next thing.”
While neighbors grow some crops on Linder’s land in an agreement to help maintain it, no one knows anything about his days in Washington.
In fact, the only people who know he is connected to Congress are the UPS delivery men that occasionally bring gifts.
Recently, Linder and his wife Lynn gave up their big house — where the “ballroom” remained unused because his wife couldn’t dance anymore — and moved into a smaller one, letting his daughter Kristine and her family move in. With son Matt recently back from years living in Thailand, Linder’s new life is one surrounded by family.
“I don’t have any stress in my life,” the former congressman said, adding that he has lost 30 pounds, makes a point to walk to the mailbox every day — it’s a a half-mile trip each way — and has given up his cholesterol and high blood pressure medications.
In the smaller abode, where massive windows allow views of the lake, there are few signs of Linder’s life in Washington.
All of his important papers were donated to the University of Georgia, and the rest were burned or shredded.
Other than a Congressional nameplate and a few photos and books in his office, the only sign of the former politician’s old life are the elephants, hundreds of them, that can be found throughout the decor.
A Republican then and now, Linder said people have given him gifts with the party symbol for as long as he can remember, and traces are everywhere, from figurines to vases to benches, even the soap container in the bathroom.
“No one knows how many are here,” he said with a laugh. “The grandkids start to count them and they lose track.”
This is the life of a man once busy with fundraisers and committee hearings, worrying about floor votes and elections.
Now, days are graced with Mississippi sun and the quiet, peaceful days on the land.
And Linder said he doesn’t miss a thing.
“I knew who I was before I went to Congress. I was never defined by that,” he said, while steering the pontoon boat on his own lake.
“It’s nice, isn’t it?” he said, looking out over his land. “It’s so private.”