June 15, 2022

Awarding three Father’s Day blue ribbons


           Supply-chain disruption has stayed in the news. I often wonder what I’d see if I could peek into one of those shipping containers at the ports. But what I wouldn’t see is enough colorful paper and bows to wrap my Father’s Day present this year or ever.

            No way.

            You can’t buy what Alan, Emily and Eric have continued giving me since their arrivals in 1973, 1976 and 1979. I’ve joked that they are our “disco babies,” born in the days of polyester double-knit leisure suits, tacky big-collared shirts and Saturday Night Fever. My dad died in 1998, but I will be forever grateful that he got to experience their love, and vice versa.

            Each of our children can rattle off a litany of Granddaddy NeSmith stories. They are sharing those “gifts” with their children. Only words live forever. That’s why I published The Last Man to Let You Down, My Daddy the Undertaker. His great-grandchildren never got to feel the tickle of his moustache (Emily called it “that thing”), but they can read the words and see the pictures.

            Here’s the gift from Alan, Emily and Eric that defies wrapping. It’s called love for each other and our family of 16. We have differences of opinion, but you won’t find feuds and pouting. And that carries down to their children, our eight grandchildren. Every time the cousins convene, the excitement rivals Christmas morning.

            That’s a priceless gift for this grandpa.

            With Sunday being Father’s Day, I am awarding blue ribbons to three fathers. First, there’s Alan, who earned his UGA degree at 30. Our oldest was also the oldest to marry. But when he did, Alan was blessed to wed Heather Hammond of Fitzgerald, also a UGA grad. Together, they are nurturing sons William and Fenn.

Alan carries a heavy civic-and-professional-leadership load, but he makes sure every possible moment is an outdoors adventure for his family. I doubt any boy at Tallulah Falls School has waded in more creeks, reeled in more fish, shot more doves or caught more salamanders than William and Fenn. For Father’s Day, I give the chairman of Community Newspapers Inc. a blue ribbon.

            Emily NeSmith and Tom Wilson of Sharpsburg were students at UGA, but it was on the Watkinsville campus of Truett-McConnell College where they met. Sitting next to each other—in an elective music-appreciation course—I suggested that they “appreciated” each other more than the music. When Tom made an appointment to ask for Emily’s hand, I teased, “If you ever mistreat her, you should hope her brothers don’t outrun me.” What a magnificent pair they’ve made for the past 22 years.

            On the day Emily announced that she and Tom were expecting a fourth son, I asked, “What were you thinking?” She fired back, “I was thinking Tom is a wonderful husband, father and provider. We are all about family.” Tom works as hard being a role model for Wyatt, Hayes, Henry and Smith as he does with his burgeoning homebuilding and residential-development company. Emily was right. Tom is a blue-ribbon father.

            When Eric entered UGA, he aimed for the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications. At the same time, he declined an invitation to walk on to Coach Jim Donnan’s Bulldog football team. His grandfather, my dad, was terminally ill. Eric had lettered in four high school sports, but he valued family time more.

Our youngest traveled to Europe to find the love of his life, a Memphis belle. Eric and Connell Sullivant were in a study-abroad program in Innsbruck, Austria. When they stepped onto a Berlin-bound train, the two journalism students were strangers. But when they stepped off, well, the rest is history. Connell, with three UGA degrees, is the scholar among us. Eric and Connell are a team, balancing their careers and family time with son Bayard and Stella, our only granddaughter. For Father’s Day, I also give Eric, the James Beard Award-winning magazine publisher, a blue ribbon.

That’s right. I don’t have to wait for Father’s Day to unwrap my presents. There’s never been a supply-chain disruption of love. I get those gifts every day. Besides, there wouldn’t be enough wrapping paper and bows.

No way.

Happy Father’s Day, Alan, Tom and Eric.






June 8, 2022

‘There’s a whole world out there’

            Do you ever look and not see?

            I’m guilty of that sometimes.

            But usually, I am fascinated by the simplest things.  I like what European author/poet/songwriter Charlotte Eriksson has to say about that. “There’s a whole world out there, right outside your window.  You’d be a fool to miss it,” she says.

            And Eriksson’s right.

            You and I could make a list from here to the South Pole and back of the awful things we see.  In so many ways, the world is upside down, as if it’s trying to implode.   

            What can we do?

            Sadly, too often, the answer is not much.

            But that shouldn’t stop us.

            While we are trying to help others, we need to help ourselves by nurturing and protecting our mental health.  With all the ugliness, it’s easy to be sucked into an unhealthy black hole. And resisting isn’t always easy.

            Most of my days are like a track meet, sprinting from one task to the next.  Many of my teachers declared that I had ants in my pants.  Maybe so.  But I do have a powerful elixir that helps to slow me down and lift my spirits.  You can’t buy it in a store or online. It’s free, a gift from God. It’s called nature.

  I find peace in nature. I savor looking for things that could be easily overlooked, “right outside” my window. But I must turn off the TV, my tablet and my cell phone to absorb the value of looking around and seeing, really seeing.

In the past 10 days, here are two special things that I’ve seen.  One had roots.  The other had wings.  Both were nature’s way to say, “Stop. Look.  Smile.”

In the corner of our asphalt driveway stands a basketball goal. When grandchildren are around, you can hear the dribbles on the blacktop, the bonks of the ball bouncing off the fiberglass backboard, and the shouts of “Nothing but net!”  So far this summer, grandkids have been scattered.  Our backyard is quiet.

Mother Nature noticed that, too. In a crack in the asphalt, she presented an unexpected gift.  I had to do a double take. A petunia—with its two bright pink blooms—had taken root.  For more than a week, I’ve made a special effort to walk over and admire the petite flower.

Simple, but a reminder. 

In a world with all its ungodly evil, beauty still abounds.  But you must see it to appreciate it.

Our farm is a bird sanctuary.  I love the aerial antics of the purple martins.  My favorite feathered friends are the killdeers, large plovers.  Since boyhood, I’ve called them “killdees.”

Right now, it’s nesting season.  One of their preferred spots is in the river-rock courtyard—right out in the open—between two barns.  When we see a clutch of eggs, we surround the nest with orange traffic cones. 

Killdeer parents take turns incubating the eggs.  If you walk near the nest, the mama or papa will make a racket and put on a show.  With noisy broken-wing acts, they’ll try to lure you away.  The theatrics last up to 28 days. And then, you are rewarded with the happy scene of tiny “killdees” scurrying about.

Early morning and late afternoon, I peek at the nest.

I don’t want to “be a fool” and miss a sip of nature’s soothing elixir.

Right outside my window.      






June 1, 2022

Hometown connections bring smiles

           Our three-seat golf cart was maxed out with six passengers.  The sun hadn’t started its orange-glow descent below the tree-lined horizon. That’s why the trio of photographers was trusting me to pick the perfect spot—down by the lake—in the shade.

            I wanted the folks holding cameras to be happy, but I was more intent on the couple holding hands—on the back seat—to be happier.  After all, this was their wedding day at Pam’s venue, Historic Smithonia Farm.  And the bride has a very special hometown connection.

            During the half-mile ride from the barn, I was reflecting on how the bride’s dots connected to mine.  In 1953, at T.G. Ritch Elementary School, her paternal great-grandmother, Mrs. Aletha Poppell, was my first-grade teacher.

            But there’re more Wayne County connections.

            Rachel’s paternal grandparents, Beth Hatton and the late Pat Hatton, have been our family’s friends for years.  Their daughter was one of Alan, Emily and Eric’s babysitters.  I had a chance to visit and laugh with Elizabeth H. Roper, as if the 1980s were last week.  Jacob, a senior finance major at Georgia State University, accompanied his mom.

            The wedding gave me a chance to reconnect with Elizabeth’s brother and father of the bride, Robert, a Valdosta pharmacist.  About 11 p.m. on May 28, I shook hands with Robert and gave his wife, Kim, a hug.  Their smiles lit up the faint-moon night as he drove his F-150 into the Oglethorpe County darkness.

            Perhaps the longest reunion was with George and Susan Hirvela, along with their son Steve, who live in Carrollton.  George’s late mom, Glenna, was an O’Quinn, a sibling of Judy O. Burke, the late Maxine O. Partin and the late Lonnie O’Quinn.  As my early-career banker, Lonnie trusted me to sign enough 90-day notes to wallpaper my office.  Glenna, Judy, Maxine and Lonnie’s dad, George, was Wayne County’s sheriff, 1950-1954.

            Sheriff O’Quinn’s sister, Aletha O. Poppell was my first-grade teacher.  Her daughter, Beth, is Rachel’s grandmother.  See how all these hometown links weave together to make a multigenerational quilt of friendship?

            And the wedding went one step further. Rachel’s maid of honor, Amy Gail Wooley, will marry attorney John Lex Kenerly on July 16.  The connections with both sides of his family—Kenerly and Bland—were established with the NeSmiths decades ago.


Thinking about all these hometown connections —215 miles from Jesup—is why I was determined to find the perfect place to photograph Mr. and Mrs. Reed Dillard.

And who would have imagined that in 1953?


May 25, 2022

We are lucky if we can find a best friend


             The love affair didn’t blossom when he first opened his eyes on March 9, 1942. Not quite. But when Lawrence Cohen Walker Jr. started toddling around his daddy’s tractor and farm-supply store, he began taking notice of his hometown. And by the time he quit squirming in Perry United Methodist Church’s pews, Larry was in love with where he was born.

Before long, he knew every dirt and paved road in Houston County—making friends along the way—hauling fertilizer and delivering whatever Cohen Walker’s customers needed. Lifting those heavy sacks helped tone his muscles and stamina so that Larry could quarterback his high school football team and zip up and down the basketball court.

In a short time, Perry knew that it loved Larry Walker, too. On May 14, I witnessed more than 260 Walker family friends line up to express their respect and affection for Larry and his wife, Janice. The beloved couple were celebrating their 80th birthdays. I have anointed them the King and Queen of the Gnat Line.

In a lineup, Larry is unlikely to be the tallest. But height doesn’t necessarily make you a giant. In Central Georgia and beyond, Lawrence Cohen Walker Jr. stands tall, very tall, among a lineup of Georgia giants. Several major thoroughfares in Perry are named for some of Houston County’s most-honored natives. I know about four.

One is Gen. Courtney Hodges Boulevard, saluting a World War II legend. Another is Larry Walker Parkway, paying tribute to my friend, who served in Georgia’s General Assembly for 32 years. The retiring rainmaker of the Walker, Hulbert, Gray and Moore law firm would have made a fine governor before he exited politics in 2004. Without Rep. Walker’s vision and persuasion, Perry wouldn’t be benefiting from the Georgia National Fair and its 1 million annual visitors.

There’s another boulevard of note in Perry. It’s named for a former U.S. senator who should have been president. Sam Nunn would have carried a smart, savvy style of leadership into the White House.

In 1972, when Sen. Nunn went to Washington, Larry went to Atlanta to fill Sam’s seat in the House of Representatives. Now there are roads carrying the names of both distinguished statesmen.

Another Perry giant is honored on a section of I-75. Every time I drive the Gov. Sonny Perdue Highway, I say, “Thank you, my friend.” In 2008, the then-governor appointed me to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents. A couple of years later, Sonny placed Larry on the board, which governs the state’s public colleges and universities.

That’s when Larry and I reconnected. We had met in the late 1980s, serving on Georgia 2000, a blue-ribbon panel preparing the state for the new century. Almost 25 years later, our friendship galvanized. We formed a two-man book club. Our shelves are sagging with books that we insisted each other read. Our tastes in barbecue and music are identical.

We also share a passion for quail hunting. Across wiregrass Georgia, we’ve climbed on and off Tennessee walking horses in pursuit of covey rises. And fingerprints are all over our calendars, checking to see when we can pitch crickets in the middle of bluegill beds. Just yesterday, Larry asked, “What’s the river level? Think the fish are biting?” Not many days go by that we aren’t talking about something.

There’s an Irish proverb: “A best friend is like a four-leaf clover, hard to find and lucky to have.”







May 18, 2022

The real ‘Superman’ couldn’t even fly

            The Superman I knew didn’t wear red briefs and blue leotards and fly around with a cape flapping in the wind. That legend lives in comic books and Hollywood.

            I knew the real “Superman.” We once lived next door to him in Athens.


            Like Clark Kent, he was a newspaperman. When he dropped by my office, he was usually wearing a sportscoat, sans tie. Over our decades of friendship, I never saw him in a skintight red and blue outfit. And if he had X-ray vision, he disguised that superpower by propping bifocals on the end of this nose.

            How did I know he was “Superman?”

            Here’s proof.

            As editor of UGA’s student newspaper, The Red & Black, he crafted his wordsmithing skills. With his crisp 1951 Grady College of Journalism diploma, he went home to join the feisty staff of The Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. The newspaper would win a Pulitzer Prize, beaming sunshine into the shady sides of Phenix City, Alabama, then known as the “most corrupt city in America.” I recommend you read The Tragedy and Triumph of Phenix City, Alabama by Margaret Anne Barnes.

            If he or any of the other reporters could fly, they didn’t know it. Instead, they treaded across the Chattahoochee River Bridge in their Hush Puppies, toting note pads and cameras. The late Claude McBride was among the award-winning journalists working with “Superman.”

            During the 1950s era, a crime-busting prosecutor was assassinated, as the gambling, prostitution and whiskey toughs fought back. Once, I asked Claude, then the chaplain of the Georgia Bulldog football team, why he became a minister. “One night,” he said, “I stepped out the back door of the newspaper, and I felt a gun in my back. The thug said that I better never write a word about Phenix City. Right then, I heard the Lord calling.”

            In a daring plunge, the Hush-Puppy-wearing “Superman” quit his assistant editor’s job on the big-city daily for another reason. He launched a weekly newspaper, The Phenix Citizen, inside enemy lines. He survived—physically and financially—but that’s not the heroics that proved my friend was “Superman.”

            Even Lex Luthor would agree that this is more amazing than “flying faster than a speeding bullet, being more powerful than a locomotive or able to leap over tall buildings in a single bound.”

            Imagine this: “Superman” lived in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom house with his wife and three other women—her mother, her mother’s mother and his mother.


“This is a job for Superman!”

            Despite cramped quarters, happiness reigned at 1117 W. Lindsey Drive in Columbus. Most grooms would choke repeating the for-better-or-worse vow if they knew two mothers-in-law and a grandmother were part of the wedding package. But wait, there’s more.

The stork dropped by three times, delivering Jim, Kathy and Laura. Because the house started to get a little crowded, they moved—all of them.

When Millard and Charlotte celebrated their 44th wedding anniversary in 1998, his mother-in-law was still living with them. And the courtly lady was there until she died at 93.

            Do the math. Charlotte’s mother: 41 years. Millard’s mother: 16 years. Grandmother: 10 years.

When I did the math in 2004—counting the 50 years that Millard had lived with Charlotte—the grand total of women years was 117. And that didn’t include the years their daughters, Kathy and Laura, were at home.

“And I never heard him complain,” his genteel wife once told me. “Not even once. He’s such an honorable man.”

Yes, he was.

My friend, Millard Grimes, 92, died May 3.

And if Millard’s “honorable” example didn’t make him the real “Superman,” I’ll eat my computer, coated in kryptonite.