This month, I begin my 16th year as a syndicated newspaper columnist in Georgia. Time flies when you are having fun and I am having a ball. I hope you are, too.
This career — unlike my tenure at BellSouth and then at the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games — was accidental. In June 1998, just as I had about talked myself into retirement, I was asked by the Atlanta Business Chronicle if I would share some observations on the city of Atlanta, two years after the staging of the Centennial Olympic Games. Share, I did.
I said the Games were great; the city was not. Atlanta blew a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Like the braggart whose bluff is called, the city couldn’t deliver when the time came. The local media, business and civic leaders stood around and watched a racist mayor and his henchmen embarrass the city on the world stage even while they were busy trying to make an easy buck off the Games.
I said Atlanta couldn’t even lay claim to being “The Next Great City.” That honor belonged to Charlotte, N.C., which took the title along with all of Atlanta’s bank headquarters. It was, to state the obvious, a rather widely-discussed column.
From that episode came numerous opportunities from editors to say what was on my mind to more and more people across the state. Now, 15 years and more than a thousand columns later, I am still at it; sometimes in error, never in doubt.
I came close to starting an international incident when I accused those who carried out the sneak attack on the USS Cole and killed 17 sailors in 2000, and those that said nary a word when it happened, of being a bunch of cowards. That, of course, brought righteous indignation from some huffy Arabs — who would have thought they read my columns in Yemen? — and the predictable threats that scared the tar out of a young editor. It turns out that a year later we experienced the sneak attacks on New York City and Washington. That pretty much shut their yap holes. This was one time I hated being right.
One of the highpoints came when I asked you to undertake an effort to supply a group of Marines in an undisclosed but extremely dangerous location in Afghanistan with some basic needs such as socks, toothpaste, sunscreen and the like. Your response clogged up their supply lines, making you the quintessential Great Americans to those brave young men.
Collectively, we have taken on the General Assembly and their benign neglect of lobbying reform. Some legislators ignored your letters and phone calls and a few of them condescendingly lectured you about how hard their job was and how little they were paid to do it — as if that was relevant. Nobody forced them to run for office. Thanks to your insistence, the legislature improved the rules slightly, but only slightly. They think you and I will go away and leave them to grave matters of state and an occasional soiree with a lizard-loafered lobbyist. I think we have more work to do.
I have been known to say a kind word or two about school teachers in this space over the years. I have four teachers in my family. I am proud of all our teachers and remind them that their critics couldn’t carry their book bags, including Alice the Wal-Mart Lady and the billionaire Koch brothers.
It has been an honor and a privilege to correspond with you over the past 15 years. You have let me know when you thought I was right and you have let me know when you thought I missed the mark. You have celebrated the good times with me and grieved with me through our family tragedy.
You have told me that the most popular column of the year — by far — is my annual letter to my grandsons. You have said that you share these with your own family and in some cases, put them away until there will be children and grandchildren of your own. It doesn’t get any better than that.
How long can I keep up these weekly screeds? Frankly, I didn’t know I would make it this far. But as long as there are clowns walking the earth, there will always be the need for someone to point them out to you. Yes, it’s a dirty job but somebody’s got to do it. Thank you for allowing me that opportunity.
Dick Yarbrough is a North Georgia resident whose column appears Saturdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint. Contact him at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139