By Ross Williams
VININGS — There’s a party at Dick Yarbrough’s place.
The guest list includes Junior E. Lee, general manager of the Yarbrough Worldwide Media and Pest Control Company from Greater Garfield, Georgia, and Skeeter Skates of Skeeter Skates Plow Repair and Stump Removal of Ryo, Georgia. Jack and Jill the mules sent regrets. They are stranded in either Canada or Montana.
The occasion for the gathering? On Saturday, the humorist published his 1,000th syndicated column that appears in 35 newspapers across Georgia.
Yarbrough is known for his wacky sense of humor, his zany characters and his propensity to go after targets of any political persuasion.
Sitting in the office of his Vinings home, Yarbrough said he thinks his apolitical zingers are part of the reason people keep reading.
“I’m not predictable,” he said. “I’m not conservative, I’m not liberal. I write about whatever I want to write about, and that, I think, has drawn a lot of people to the column. ... You’ve got some people, every week, they’re going to bash Trump. Some people, every week, they’re going to praise Trump. You’ve got people, you just know what they’re going to do. ... I’m the only person you’ll probably ever know who has been called, within a period of about a month, an Obama bedwetting liberal and a racist redneck.”
Yarbrough said he was accused of wetting beds because he suggested in a column that a statue in the Capitol of Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, be replaced with another Georgian, musician Ray Charles.
He earned the racist redneck moniker after going after NFL player and activist Colin Kaepernick.
“I love it,” he said with a big laugh. “If I got called a racist every week, there’s something wrong with me. If I got called a bedwetting liberal all the time, there’s something wrong with me. But when I get called both, that’s something right. Sometimes I can hear them sputtering through the email, they’re so mad at me.”
Yarbrough said his targets are “the humor-impaired,” and gave the example of state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah. In 2013, Yarbrough wrote a column skewering Stephens for taking a junket to Turkey and Azerbaijan.
“I got a call the next day, he said ‘Dick.’ I said ‘Yes, sir.’ He said ‘Ron Stephens.’ I said ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘Funniest damn column I’ve ever read in my life.’ … I told him at the end of the conversation that’s the last time I write about you because you have a sense of humor. I crossed him off the list. Fortunately, there’s enough people out there that don’t have a sense of humor.”
Yarbrough came to the life of a humorist after spending a full career in the business world, where he retired as vice president of BellSouth in 1993 after 40 years. He went on to join the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic games, serving as managing director.
Two years after the Olympics, Yarbrough got a call from the Atlanta Business Chronicle asking him to write a column about his thoughts on the games. Yarbrough was reluctant at first, but eventually decided to write it.
“I got it all out of my system,” he said with a laugh. “I blistered the city government, the business community and the media. I said Atlanta wasn’t even the next great city, Charlotte took that title along with our banks. And it got a tremendous response. … The Business Chronicle asked if I’d write another one. I told my wife, who wanted me to retire, I’ll write another one, and that will be it. And then I’ll write one every three weeks. And then I’ll write one every week.”
More than 20 years later, Yarbrough is still at his laptop typing away. He said he’s blessed to have found a second career that is so fulfilling, especially after his first career did not quite lend itself to creativity.
“It was very structured, and you had lawyers looking over everything you said,” he said.
Often, Yarbrough says what’s on his mind through the mouths of characters he has cooked up. His favorite is Junior E. Lee.
“I have him patterned after a real person — I can’t tell you who he is — who thinks he knows everything about everything.”
Looking back, Yarbrough said he is proud of his accomplishments in the business world, but he sometimes thinks he may have been happier starting out as a writer.
“I probably would have started out doing this, now that I know how much fun it is for me,” he said.