McIver shooting a tale of love, class, race

Claud “Tex” McIver and his wife Diane, are shown in undated family photos. Atlanta attorney Claud “Tex” McIver told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today that he accidentally shot and killed his wife as they rode in their SUV near Piedmont Park September 25th. Asked by a reporter if he purposely shot Diane McIver, Tex McIver responded, “I absolutely did not. She was my life partner. My life as I know it is ruined because of this accident.” FAMILY PHOTO

Claud “Tex” McIver and his wife Diane, are shown in undated family photos. Atlanta attorney Claud “Tex” McIver told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today that he accidentally shot and killed his wife as they rode in their SUV near Piedmont Park September 25th. Asked by a reporter if he purposely shot Diane McIver, Tex McIver responded, “I absolutely did not. She was my life partner. My life as I know it is ruined because of this accident.” FAMILY PHOTO

The wedding was just about as fine as one could be — a little bit country, a little bit big money.

She arrived in a two-horse coach clattering over the rolling terrain of Putnam County. Part of the route stretched across a pond’s dam; everyone could see her approach.

She stepped out on their 85-acre farm’s front lawn. She was clad in white, a plumed hat capping a mass of dark hair. The guests, seated on hay bales, smiled.

The maid of honor? The bride’s horse, a mare, with flowers ringing her head. The wedding reflected the couple — well-off, yes, but not too far off from their roots.

The groom, Claud “Tex” McIver, never lost the Texas boy in himself. Despite rising to the top circles of the legal and political worlds in this state, he still wore cowboy boots with his dress suits.

His bride, Diane, liked big hats as much as horses. She was little more than a teenager, the product of a modest southern upbringing, when an Atlanta business man spotted her potential. Eventually, she would be atop his multi-million dollar marketing company.

It was a second marriage for both. And when the I-do’s and vows to honor and treasure each other forever were finished in that November 2005 ceremony, everyone assembled under a huge tent. Guests dined on fried chicken and pralines made on-site.

Thus did Mr. and Mrs. McIver embark on their grand adventure.

It ended Sept. 25. Diane McIver, shot in the back, died in a hospital emergency room in the early hours the following day. The shooter: her husband who says the gun accidentally went off as their SUV carried them through Midtown Atlanta.

In his first public statements on the incident, Tex McIver told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Friday he effectively ended two lives when that gun fired.

“She was my life partner,” he said. “My life as I know it is ruined because of this accident.”

‘They hold hands’

This is no ordinary case. Diane McIver’s fatal shooting has touched on issues of privilege and race. And the question of what happened has spurred conversations and speculation in Atlanta and beyond.

Some say Atlanta police have given Tex McIver - a prominent and politically-connected lawyer - preferential treatment. Would they have been so gentle to a car mechanic who inadvertently shot his spouse? they ask. On social media, some say they simply don't believe the McIver camp's version of events, which have shifted in recent days. Why didn't he call 911? How could he have started to nod off in the backseat so soon after pulling out his .38-caliber snub-nose revolver?

But McIver’s supporters say he made a mistake and always will have to live with what happened in that darkened SUV.

Police have said little about the shooting. "We are going to hold what we have until we come to a conclusion," police spokesman Sgt. Warren Pickard said earlier this week.

There’s the racial angle, too. McIver, according to an early account put out by a family spokesman, grabbed a handgun to protect himself, the SUV’s driver and his wife from what he thought could be unrest stemming from possible Black Lives Matter demonstrations in the area.

His lawyer, Stephen Maples, said Friday that was wrong. The 73-year-old McIver, he said, saw some people milling about on the street in an area where homeless people congregated. The couple pulled the gun out as a precaution.

The earlier version still stings, said state Sen.Vincent Fort.

“It’s unfortunate … in an atmosphere that’s already volatile, (to have) this unwarranted attack on Black Lives Matter’” said Fort, a Democrat and African-American.

The real tragedy, said McIver’s friends, is that a couple has been forever sundered.

“They hold hands,” said Andrew Ward, a Putnam neighbor, perhaps forgetting that such an act is no longer possible. “Who holds hands when they get into their sixties?”

Power couple

They were behind-the-scenes people. Over the years, Tex and Diane McIver donated more than $100,000 to political candidates in Georgia. That made them philanthropists — political rainmakers, too. They held major fundraisers, often at their Putnam farm, for candidates eyeing local as well as federal offices.

He’s had the ear of governors, senators and the major power-brokers in this state.

“He doesn’t want people to think he’s a big deal,” said Todd Rehm, a Republican strategist since the early 1990s. He met Tex McIver when the future Republican planner was a college kid working in the mail room of the older man’s law firm.

“He is politically reliable,” Rehem said. “He’s not going to overshadow an elected official.”

Politically astute, too. When Paul Coverdell made a 1992 run for the U.S. Senate, say friends, country boy McIver was among those who pulled city boy Coverdell aside.

You need to attend the Sun Belt Expo in Moultrie, in the heart of South Georgia, McIver said. You need to meet some farmers, get your name out there.

Coverdell did. It was among the factors that propelled him to an upset victory.

When he was governor, Sonny Perdue would appoint Tex McIver to the state Board of Elections.

In his position as vice chair of elections board, McIver has represented GOP interests in one of the most influential, if least publicized, public panels in Georgia.

As vice chair, he ushered through one of the most polarizing political measures in Georgia at the time: a requirement that all residents must show a photo ID to vote.

Critics said it effectively disenfranchised minorities, who were more likely to vote for Democrats. Supporters said the law helped keep elections honest. The fight ended up in federal court.

In 2006, the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP called on McIver and two other members of the board to resign for sending out a letter to 300,000 Georgia’s which the civil rights group said was designed to suppress minority turnout on election day. The letter suggested a photo ID was required to vote even though a judge had temporarily voided the state’s new photo requirement.

It was clear McIver supported the voter ID law, said Atlanta lawyer Emmett Bondurant. In 2008, Bondurant spoke on behalf of the Democratic Party of Georgia’s lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality. The effort failed.

Their different stance on the issue has not diminished Bondurant’s respect for McIver.

“We were friends then,” Bondurant. “We are friends now.”

In his law practice, Tex McIver often represents companies in disputes with organized labor.

Diane McIver, 64, was no less formidable. She rose through the ranks at Corey Airport Advertising, spending more than four decades with the company whose namesake tower is a landmark on the Downtown Connector. At the time of her death, she was its president.

She helped lead a years-long lawsuit in which Corey alleged municipal bias in the awarding of contracts at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. The city of Atlanta settled in 2011, agreeing to pay the company $3.9 million.

Her partner in that struggle: the man she would marry a few years later.

She was in her element at Corey, said Bill Crane, a family friend and public-relations manager. They met about 12 years ago when Crane sat down to a lunch meeting over Chick-fil-A with company founder Billy Corey. Corey may have been the boss, said Crane, but Diane was running the meeting.

“I was struck with how poised and articulate she was,” Crane said.

As he knew her better, said Crane, his admiration only deepened. “She was gracious, southern, warm,” he said. “A knowledgeable student of politics.”

A happy home

Buckhead may have been their full-time address, but the Putnam farm seemed to be the place where Tex and Diane truly lived. It’s where Tex delights in long-horned steer, a pronged reminder of his earlier days in Texas.

Many people who buy second homes in the country want to get away from everyone, said Putnam Sheriff Howard Sills. The McIvers were the exception. Tex is on the county Development Authority. He’s mentored students at Georgia College and State University in nearby Milledgeville. Diane, said Sills, helped at a local school.

After the shootings of police officers in Dallas, the couple was instrumental in putting up a “Blue Lives Matter” billboard in downtown Eatonton and elsewhere, Sills noted. A longtime lawman, Sills - who is not involved in the Atlanta police probe - believes the shooting was not deliberate. After Diane died, Sills said, he checked sheriff’s department records about calls to the farm. There were three – one a false alarm triggered by a faulty security system, another concerning a motorist who drove into the McIvers’ fence and the third involving an elderly woman who had a seizure during a party at the home.

“I certainly think it’s an accident, based on what I know,” said Sills. Like others, he spoke as if the two are still united. “They are very happily married, very dedicated to each other.”

Bill Sharp, chairman of Putnam’s development authority, credits the couple with improving life in the county.

Tex, he said, helped lure to Putnam a housing company that added 100 jobs to the community. The couple also regularly hosted county-related events, he said.

And, like Sills, Sharp spoke of the couple in the present tense.

“They are a happy and loving couple. They get along wonderfully.”

When he heard about the shooting, Fort Worth lawyer Trent Loftin drove to the airport and booked the next nonstop to Atlanta. He went to sit by Tex McIver. The older man, Loftin said, was speechless with grief.

The McIvers, he said, were godparents to his children, 2 ½- and 7 weeks old. He knows them through his father, a friend of Tex’s.

“We just sat and cried together,” he said.

A memory Loftin keeps close: After his wife, Laura, had their first child, James, the new family visited the couple at their Putnam farm. As they turned in at the driveway, he said, they spied an immense roll of straw, resting in the yard like a discarded spool of thread. Their hosts had been there already with some paint.

WELCOME BABY JAMES read the words on that bale.

Loftin, still touched by the gesture, measured his words carefully.

“They were a model couple – how everyone wanted to be,” he said. “It’s hard to say ‘Tex’ without saying ‘Diane.’”