The guy who cranked out the very first issues of what was then the Gainesville Daily Times Jan. 26, 1947, died the other day.
Paul Abert always said he was the first employee of the newspaper, hired just a month before the first edition. He helped put the old used flatbed press together before it sprang to life during those first difficult winter days in the basement of the old Ward's Funeral Home building at the corner of Maple and Washington streets. His wife's brother, Freeman Carlisle, helped him assemble and run the press, and eventually became head pressman, a position he held for years.
There was a lot more to Paul Abert than the newspaper ink in his blood. The U.S. Army had sent him to radio school in Athens in 1942. He met his wife, Willie, who lived in the Sugar Hill community, on a bus ride from Athens to Gainesville. A few weeks later, they married.
After World War II, Paul taught printing at Oswego State Teachers College in New York, eventually bringing Willie back to Hall County, where he signed on with the new newspaper.
But New York and the radio business eventually beckoned again, and Paul began a career that put him in touch with some of that era's most famous entertainers. He was involved in the first live broadcasts of some of the big bands of that day, including Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. He knew the Dorseys personally, as well as other stars of the swing era. He did live recording sessions with them.
Paul even became a crooner with some of the big bands and made recordings himself.
As a television cameraman, at one time he was the only one allowed to film President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office of the White House.
Abert was there during some of the seminal moments of broadcasting, both television and radio, say his friends Vanessa Hyatt and Scott Fugate, who worked with him at Brenau University's WBCX radio station.
When he retired, Paul and Willie returned to Hall County, but he didn't leave broadcasting. He essentially built the studios, which are named in his honor, at the Brenau station.
"He was the backbone of the radio station," Scott Fugate says, and showed him the ropes when Fugate first began working there.
Abert became a familiar voice on WBCX Tuesday nights when his "Jukebox Jamboree" aired. It was a program of oldies music, much of it from the big band era, about which he was so knowledgeable. He would comment on the artists and their music between numbers. Abert recorded 10 such sessions, which continued to be played one after another.
Paul and Willie Carlisle Abert had been married more than 65 years before she died several months before Paul's death April 11 at age 88.
The Gainesville Daily Times' first front page headlined Georgia's three-governor controversy, which eventually resulted in Herman Talmadge becoming governor after his father, Gene, had died after being elected the previous fall. Another story that day was the War Assets Administration declaring the Gainesville airport surplus. It had been used as a naval air training base during World War II, and Gainesville took it over to develop what is now Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport.
Among other pioneer employees were Ray Hull, who served a short time as editor before Sylvan Meyer, and A.B. (Buddy) Carter, who later became long-time production manager. His son, Fletcher, also later served the newspaper in that position.
Carolyn Ramsey, Corrine Tanner, Pick Butler, Virginia Woodall and Margaret Castleberry were among the first news staff employees. Other early employees were John (Bud) Stone, Eph Matthews, who later opened Matthews Printing Co., Frank Brown, Charles (Slew) Sanders Jr., Johnnie Beaver, Wood Hill, Polly Smith and Marvin West. Charles and Lessie Smithgall founded the paper, and Lessie also worked in the newsroom.
Few youths deliver newspapers today. But when The Times started, carriers were called "Little Merchants." Among those first boys to carry newspaper routes on their bicycles were Robin Ledford, Lamar Waldrip, Bill Butler, R.L. West, Larry Pardue and brothers Ken and Phil Hudgins, who as adults became executives with The Times and other newspapers.
You could subscribe to the new newspaper for $15 per year.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.