June 13, 2024

Jekyll Island fills a scrapbook of memories

 

            Just driving on the Jekyll Island Causeway makes me smile.

            A foot-high scrapbook couldn’t hold all the magical memories of my visits to this 11-mile-long, skinny Golden Isle.

            Since Gov. M.E. Thompson engineered the state’s purchase in 1947, Jekyll Island has weathered some good and bad eras. But in 2024 I believe it’s showing its best side ever. Retired executive director Jones Hooks deserves a double portion of the credit for getting Georgia’s coastal “gem” polished and ready for the future.

            We’ve just returned from the 137th annual Georgia Press Association (GPA) Convention. While sitting on the veranda of the iconic Jekyll Island Club Hotel, I thought about my boyhood visits: putt-putt golf, the Wanderer Motel, splashing in the surf and watching giant loggerhead sea turtles bury their eggs in the sand. Those few summer trips were as close to a family vacation as we ever had.

            Now I can’t count the times that I’ve been to Jekyll Island. But here are four of my favorite memories:

            1981

Ten years into my 53-year career, I was elected the second-youngest president of the statewide organization. The youngest to ever hold GPA’s gavel was my friend Robert Williams of The Blackshear Times. I succeeded him.

We both started our Southeast Georgia careers in 1971. He went to Blackshear in May. I arrived in Jesup in August. I joked that we were “boy publishers.” Twice we’ve been partners in newspapers. And from Day One, we’ve been the best of friends.

Robert’s and my GPA leadership began in the futuristic-looking Aquarama. That oceanside complex was bulldozed—none too soon—for the current showplace, the Jekyll Island Convention Center.

It’s been 43 years since I was elected GPA president.

Unforgettable.

2000

Tom Wilson made an appointment to visit me in my office. He asked for permission to marry my daughter, Emily. My answer was easy. She had fallen in love with the right young man at the University of Georgia.

Jekyll Island’s historic Faith Chapel was the perfect storybook setting for their July 29, 2000, wedding. Twenty-four years later, they have four sons who have four cousins.

While at this year’s convention, I took a peek into the Jekyll Island Club Hotel’s ballroom. Seeing the heart-pine floors, I smiled. I can still hear the Temptations’ tune, “My Girl,” from when Em and I danced.

          Unforgettable.

2020

When our older son was 10, I asked, “Alan, what are you going to be when you grow up?” He laughed and said, “I am not sure, but I can tell you what I’m not going to be, a newspaperman.”

“Why?”

“Because you have to work too many hours and come home grouchy.”

I explained the hours were part of the profession, but I’d work on my “grouchy.”

And then in his mid-20s—while at UGA—Alan surprised me, saying, “I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Newspapers are what I know and what I love.”

Today he is chairman and co-CEO of Community Newspapers Inc. (CNI). But in 2020 he was elected—on Jekyll Island—president of GPA.

Unforgettable.

2024

Our family’s motto could be “We will work.” Our younger son, Eric, had watched Alan and Emily start their newspaper careers, inserting newspaper sections at age 8.

Eric couldn’t wait that long. At age 7, he found a Coca-Cola crate to stand on so that he could begin his newspaper career, stuffing sections of The Press-Sentinel. By the time he entered UGA, he knew where he was headed. In 2014 the National Newspaper Association presented him the Daniel M. Phillips Leadership Award, signifying Eric as one of America’s top young publishers.

Eric started as a reporter and switched to sales. He set a sales record yet to be broken before moving into management. Today Eric is a member of CNI’s board of directors.

On Jekyll at the recent GPA convention, Eric was elected president.

Unforgettable.

Yes, indeed.

Jekyll Island makes me smile.  


 

 

 

 

 

 

dnesmith@cninewspapers.com

June 6, 2024

Graduates, here are some thoughts to savor

 

            Graduation.

            Diploma.

            What’s next?

            Some graduates know.

 Some don’t.

            When I graduated from high school, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. But when I graduated from the University of Georgia, I took a year off to satisfy Uncle Sam’s Army. During my gap year—at Fort Campbell and Fort Sill—I changed direction.

            To the surprise of my family and friends, I plunged into a career that had never crossed my mind. But when the opportunity popped up, that was that. Fifty-three years later, I am still on that path.

            By now the recent graduates have heard enough commencement addresses. I don’t have a speech to deliver, but I’m always scribbling down pithy quotes that inspire me.

            Graduates, maybe one of these will spark your imagination and drive, too.

            “Never let the fear of striking out get in your way.”

–Babe Ruth, pro baseball player

            “Often when you think you’re at the end of something, you’re at the beginning of something else.”

–Fred Rogers, TV host/author

            “I not only have the right to stand up for myself, but I have the responsibility. I can’t ask somebody else to stand up for me if I won’t stand up for myself. And once you stand up for yourself, you’d be surprised that people say, ‘Can I help you?’”

–Maya Angelou, poet/author

            “Look in the mirror rather than your neighbor.”


–Frank Sonnenberg, author

            “Faced with what is right, to leave it undone shows a lack of courage.”

–Confucius, Chinese philosopher

            “Until you’re ready to look foolish, you’ll never have the possibility of being great.”

–Cher, singer/actor

            “Just because you haven’t found your talent yet doesn’t mean you don’t have one.”

–Kermit the Frog, Muppets of Sesame Street

            “The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”

–Paulo Coelho, Brazilian lyricist/novelist

            “You are not your circumstances. You are your possibilities. If you know that, you can do anything.”

–Oprah Winfrey, American host/TV producer

            “It’s a helluva start, being able to recognize what makes you happy.”

–Lucille Ball, actor/comedian

            “Love is the quality of attention we pay to things.”

–J.D. McClatchy, American poet

            “Give a man a fire, and he’s warm for a day, but set fire to him, and he’s warm for the rest of his life.”

–Terry Pratchett, author/humorist

            “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

–E.E. Cummings, poet

            “The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things only get better.”

–Stephen King, author

            “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

–Arthur Ashe, tennis pro

            “Mistakes are a part of the game. It’s how well you recover from them that is the mark of a great player.”

–Alice Cooper, singer/songwriter

            “You can tell whether a man is clever by his answers. You can tell whether a man is wise by his questions.”

–Naquib Mahfouz, Egyptian writer

            “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear.”

–Mark Twain, writer/humorist

            “Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier.”

–Charles Kettering, inventor/engineer

            “Men do not quit playing because they grow old. They grow old because they quit playing.”

–Oliver Wendell Holmes, American jurist

            And now—after all these years—folks ask, “Why do you keep on keeping on?” Albert Einstein knew the answer. The genius said:

            “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”  

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

dnesmith@cninewspapers.com

May 30, 2024

Update on training the mules and me

 

           “Be careful what you pray for,” the saying goes, “because you might get it.”

            I didn’t really pray for a miniature mule.

            But when two were advertised for sale—just up the road from the farm—I didn’t hesitate. Now when I ring the chow-time bell, a big red mule, five miniature donkeys, five llamas, three cats, a miniature horse and two petite mules trot to the barn. Well, the cats scramble down from the rafters.

            Puzzled friends ask:

§  What are their names?

§  How are you going to tame them?

            Good questions.

            I’ve been wondering about those, too.

            Maybe you can help me name the young mules. Because they are milk-chocolate brown, a neighbor suggested “Cocoa” and “Puff.” Another person said, “Call one ‘Polly’ and the other ‘Ester.’”

            Several folks have said, “Good names for them are ‘Thelma’ and ‘Louise.’” We had a Thelma and Louise pair of miniature donkeys, but we gave them to our daughter, Emily, to protect her fainting goats. Yep, our family goes for critters. And an F-150 wouldn’t hold all the dogs.

            For years, a retired neighbor helped watch over our critters. One afternoon, Pete asked, “Do you know that you have 100 animals with names that expect to be fed every day?” He wasn’t complaining. Pete, too, loved our menagerie of goats, turkeys, chickens, cows, mules, llamas, miniature donkeys, Great Pyrenees dogs and a horse.

            But I digress.

            Back to the names.

What are we going to call the barnyard newcomers? Right now, I just greet them: “Hey, girls!”

They deserve better.

So, let me know your ideas of names for the miniature mules.

How’s the taming going?

            Until the seller put halters on the mules, they had never been touched by human


hands.

            Wild” is an understatement.

The minis are kicking machines.

Will Rogers was right. The cowboy comedian quipped, “We are all ignorant … just in different subjects.” I know that I am ignorant about taming—let alone training—a pair of wild mules. But I am just smart enough to call in an expert.

Thirty years ago, I met Eddy. As a farrier, he started trimming the hooves of our original mules, Ruby and Rose. About 20 years ago, I bought Maggie, our big red mule, from Eddy. Along the way, he also sold us Lady, a Morgan-Arabian cross, that pulled a cart as if it were a magic carpet.

I am proud to report that Eddy has accepted the mini-mule challenge, too. After two sessions, “we” are making progress. That’s the mules and me.

On his second visit, Eddy said, “Let’s trim their hooves.”

Didn’t I tell you these frisky girls are kicking machines?

Eddy, 79, is a pro. And he still has his dance moves. His trimming techniques take most of the danger out. But twice, I saw Eddy dance out of reach of a flying hoof. Both times, he laughed.

This isn’t Eddy’s first rodeo.

He never raised his voice. His one-on-one motions were calm and fluid. All the while, he was talking to each mule and me.

The final lesson of the day was introducing each mule to my Kawasaki Mule. Eddy explained that the mules—one at a time—had to learn to follow the lead. Snapping two lead ropes onto a mule’s halter, he tied the ropes to the motorized Mule.

The goal wasn’t to drag the mule. No, no. Instead, we started in a creep to get the mule moving. And just like that, the mule was following along. Next time, we’ll hitch both mules.

In the meantime, I’d appreciate your prayers.

For the mules.

And me.     


     

 

 

 

 

 

dnesmith@cninewspapers.com 

May 23, 2024

What would Lewis Grizzard have to say today?

 

            Jennifer Garner asks, “What’s in your wallet?”

            The smiling Hollywood star hopes you’ll say, “A Capital One credit card.” In my wallet there is too much stuff—other than money—that ought to be weeded out and tossed.

            But Jennifer’s question made me wonder, “What’s on my office wall?”

            When I looked up, the first thing that I saw was The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Mike Luckovich’s 1994 cartoon of Lewis Grizzard’s black Lab, Catfish, greeting the syndicated columnist at The Pearly Gates.

            And that made me imagine: “If Lewis were alive, what would he have to say about all that’s going on in the world today?”

            He’d have plenty of comments, but his editors would stay busy reminding him: “Lewis, you can’t say that. This is 2024.”

            But I remember a time that Lewis’ editors balked in the 1980s, too.

            I was in Billy Poppell’s office at the Buick dealership—selling an ad—when Lewis tracked me down. “Dink,” he said, “the paper’s lawyer wants to talk to you about a column that I’ve written.”

            The attorney was nervous that Lewis might get the paper sued over his Alex Hopkins column. I had invited Lewis to be the keynote speaker at the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce banquet. Afterwards, Bob Smith introduced Alex to Lewis.

            Back to the phone call.

 I asked the attorney to read the column draft. When he was done, I said, “Counselor, the best defense for libel is the truth. And everything Lewis has written is the truth. Most people in my hometown have heard those same stories dozens of times.”


Lewis told about football coach Clint Madray wrestling Alex to win the light poles for Jesup High School’s new baseball diamond. And then he recounted when IRS agents traveled to Pendarvis to audit Alex’s depreciation of his logging equipment. The feds left in a hurry without the audit. Don’t know either of those stories? Ask around. Both were classic Alex. If you don’t laugh, you should go the doctor. Something might be wrong with you.

But the AJC’s lawyer must not have had a sense of humor. He changed Alex’s name to “Paul” in a South Georgia town.

Lewis was an avid golfer and tennis player. So, before the chamber banquet, he wanted to squeeze in a tennis match. But Lewis was distracted at the Pine Forest Country Club.

He said, “Hey, can you introduce me to that beautiful lady over on the other court?” (Lewis was an infamous ladies’ man. Married multiple times, he once quipped that the next time that he met a woman who didn’t like him … rather than marry her … he’d just buy her a house.)

“No,” I said. “Yes, she is beautiful. And, yes, I know her husband. He will hurt you if you go over there flirting.”

Lewis listened, but I guess that’s why he wound up at the Her Night Out club after the chamber banquet. He might have met some women, but he really remembered Alex.

The last time I saw Lewis was at a Georgia football game. Our tailgate spots were near each other—behind the physics building—next to the bridge and Sanford Stadium.

I walked over to say hello. Lewis was perched in a folding chair, behind a stretch limousine, and “holding court.” Emaciated and wearing dark glasses, he said, “Dink, if I had known that I was going to live this damn long, I would have taken better care of myself.” Indeed. A few months later, the popular columnist and author was dead at age 47.

That was 30 years ago.

His words—in 2024—would probably have kept him and his editors on the hot seat. And speaking of hot, whew, it’s already scorching. And here come the flip-flops and sandals. But you’ll never see my hairy toes.

            Why?

            I agree with Lewis.

            “Jesus was the last man to look good in sandals.”


 

 

 

 

 

 

dnesmith@cninewspapers.com

May 16, 2024

Where is common sense in toxic coal-ash issue?

 

            Listen.

            Hear it?

            What?

            That whirring sound.

            You thought it was just cicadas, but no.

            It’s the billing meters of Georgia Power’s attorneys and corporate lobbyists trying to figure out how to get around the latest coal-ash edict of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The noise of the invading bugs will soon be over, but the whir of the toxic coal-ash tussle is hitting high gear.

My guess is that our state’s behemoth electricity provider will spend whatever it takes to avoid doing the right thing. What’s the right thing? The very right thing to do is for Georgia Power to clean up its environmental hazards caused by leaking coal-ash ponds. Most ponds have been drained, but some have not.

Why?

Several years ago, Georgia Power and/or its parent, the Southern Company, lobbied the EPA to allow Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division (EPD) to govern coal-ash pond rules. Oklahoma and Texas did the same. I don’t know about the other two states, but Georgia Power has benefited from home-cooking governance.

The EPD, the Public Service Commission (PSC), and the General Assembly and governors have failed to challenge Georgia Power to completely clean up its environmental fiasco.

The evidence is clear that coal ash contains dangerous heavy metals including arsenic, chromium, lead, lithium, mercury, radium, selenium and others. These pollutants have been linked to cancer, heart and thyroid disease, reproductive failure, and neurological harm.

So why in thunder is there no political pressure to clean up these health and environmental threats?

It’s not called Georgia Power for naught. And the answer to the previous question could be found in one or all of these:

Entitlement

Since Georgia Power’s founding, the utility has a history of getting what it wants, including favorable rules and handsome profits. Therefore, the past is a good predictor of its entitlement-filled future. My question for Georgia’s leaders is: “Aren’t all Georgians entitled to clean air, water and soil?”

Greed

Not many businesses are guaranteed a profit, but Georgia Power is. That’s the way the system is set up for the state-sanctioned monopoly. Burning coal has put billions of dollars on the company’s bottom line. Does greed keep Georgia Power from using an appropriate amount of those billions to clean up its hazards?

Arrogance

Georgia Power is such a good company—with thousands of good people—doing so many good things. But in this debacle, why does Georgia Power balk at doing the right thing and hang onto a hardheaded public-be-damned attitude? That perceived arrogance makes its slogan, “A Citizen Wherever We Serve,” merely words with a hollow meaning.

But hold on.


Change could be forthcoming.

The EPA has finally decided to flex its muscles. New federal rules are mandating that all coal-ash ponds must be drained. The toxic industrial waste must be contained in dry, safe storage. No more coal ash leaking and poisoning Georgia’s groundwater. Good news.

But hold on, again.

Georgia Power may be counting on a “Trump” card. If elected, the former president promises to pull the EPA’s regulatory teeth. His actions and comments have proven that he doesn’t care about protecting the environment. He’s asked oil tycoons to raise a billion dollars to put him back in the White House. Enough said.

So, back to that whirring.

The cicada racket is about to end.

But the whirring of the meters of Georgia Power’s attorneys and lobbyists will never stop. They will always be trying to finagle environmental laws.

And that will keep my laptop’s keys whirring for a commitment of commonsense stewardship of our natural resources.

I believe 11 million Georgians deserve that.


 

 

 

 

 

 

dnesmith@cninewspapers.com