April 13, 2021

Family and friends are life’s treasures

            For four-sips-of-sweet-tea short of three hours, the outside world was in another galaxy. Larry Walker had driven north, up from the Gnat Line. I traveled south, down from the foothills. With the welcome mat rolled out, Jim Minter was right where he’s been for 90 years.

            Unless you had done your homework, you wouldn’t know about Inman. Jim’s hometown is a teensy speck on a very crowded Fayette County footprint, below the world’s busiest airport and Atlanta.

            Thanks to the Minters, suburban sprawl hasn’t subdivided and paved over their roots. A testament to their love of Inman is its former combination post office and train depot. Before it sagged into a heap, Jim and his family transformed the small frame structure into a nostalgic showplace with a museum’s aura.

            For Jack Frost days, there’s a woodburning stove and rocking chairs. Every time I’m invited there, I must peruse the posters and pictures that line the walls. It’s a step back in time, without having to blow the dust off the fixtures. For three silver-haired fellas, what better place to reminisce and swap stories?

Three friends tapped the pause button to visit. From left
are Larry Walker, Jim Minter and me. Jim hosted us in
the former Inman post office and train depot, restored
by his family. (Photo by Anne Minter)

When Jim’s wife, Anne, walked in with a picnic basket, we settled around a weathered oak table. And there we sat eating barbecue, talking, laughing and sipping tea until mid-afternoon. 

            By touching the pause button, we were reminded that true wealth isn’t about money. The real treasures of life are family and friends. Using those two measurements, no one on the annual Forbes 400 list is richer than Jim, Larry or me. Let tell you about these two friends.

Jim Minter

            Jim is one of the most modest, self-effacing men you will ever meet. The retired editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is a newspaper icon. Long before Google, Jim was one of my human search engines. Jim’s written one book, but inside his encyclopedic mind is enough information to fill a library shelf with books. 

I never tire listening to his stories. Pick a subject: sports, politics or famous people. Jim’s written about them all. The $100-a-week sportswriter worked his way up to the executive editor’s slot of the South’s most powerful newspaper. 

My friend would deny the credit, but he is responsible for rescuing a “frostbitten” Lewis Grizzard from Chicago. As a columnist, an author and a raconteur, Lewis was wildly popular. But Jim was the soft-spoken mastermind who put Lewis on the launching pad to fame and fortune. 

Larry Walker

Larry Walker and I go way back, too. The Perry lawyer’s shingle has been hanging for 56 years. The American Bar Association once honored Larry as the best small-firm lawyer in the nation. His hometown honored him by naming the “Larry Walker Parkway.”

When U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn went to Washington, Larry took his place in the Georgia House of Representatives. During his 32 years of service, he had but two opponents. Larry did the legislative heavy lifting for several governors. Few under the Gold Dome were closer to legendary Speaker of the House Tom Murphy. 

Larry, the visionary statesman, gets things done. Not many believed Perry was the right location for the Georgia National Fair. Larry made it happen. Annual fair attendance surpasses 500,000. Add another half-million visitors for livestock shows and special events. 

Larry and I are a two-man book club. He’s authored two books, with more in the works. Larry and I share multiple interests: UGA, quail hunting, fishing, books, history and, of course, family. We also share an irreplaceable friendship with Jim Minter.

Family and friends.

What treasures.

I’ll drink to that.

Sweet tea, that is.


April 6, 2021

A test of patience and persistence

            On Christmas Eve 1981, he was hiding in the azaleas and peeking through the blinds of 

our dining room window. 


Satan himself. And I am sure that he was laughing, as I was buying my ticket to Hades.

            But before it was too late, better judgment rescued me. I stopped fuming and called 911: Big Dink. “Granddaddy,” I said. “I need your help with Emily’s Barbie Dreamhouse. The devil—with his pitchfork—is hiding in our flowerbed.”

            In a few minutes, I heard the backdoor opening. With the patience of Job, my dad helped me snap together what seemed like a million plastic pieces. Somewhere around 2 a.m., Santa’s helpers smiled, and we went looking for our pillows.

            Parents, you know this. Three of the most dreaded words are “some assembly required.” As in the case of the Barbie Dreamhouse, “some” was a stretch, a mile-long stretch. And after all that work, we’ve saved it for four decades. I hope our only granddaughter, Stella, wants Aunt Emily’s dollhouse.

On Christmas Eve 1981, Santa's helper had to have
help assembling a Barbie Dreamhouse.

            Patience has never been one of my finer qualities, but I do pray for improvement. It’s a brief request: “Lord, please give me patience. And I need it right now.”

            Now it’s 40 years later. 

            On a quiet Saturday afternoon, I stared at the heavy cardboard container. And I knew “some assembly required” would be necessary if the contents were to look anything like the picture on the package.

            I gave myself a pep talk. Tearing into the box, I mumbled, “You can do this.” Underneath the assorted metal pieces and a few bags of bolts, washers and plastic nuts were four pages of instructions. The smart approach would be to read them first, so I did. Fifteen minutes later, I walked over to the window. If the devil was there, he was hiding. But I was sure that I could hear him snickering.

            Back to the task of assembling the Big Green Egg’s roll-about nest.


            Big Dink hasn’t been available since 1998. Before the devil got the best of me, I took a break. And then persistence kicked in.

            Ahhhh, ha!

            “This isn’t 1981. We have YouTube in 2021,” I said aloud. With a few clicks, I was watching a video on how to assemble that aggravating puzzle. I didn’t need a helper. I just needed more patience and persistence.

            The short clip showed that I was going about it wrong, trying to juggle the parts on a table. I spread the pieces on the floor. 


Everything made sense, and I didn’t hear the devil chuckling anymore. Pleased with myself, I sat on the concrete and rolled the dark green ceramic grill/oven/smoker’s nest around on its plastic casters. Why had I been so impatient?


Instead of the devil laughing, I was.

But then I had one more challenge that required another round of patience and persistence.


After sitting in the floor for more than an hour, I had to get up.


And, for a few moments, I wondered whether YouTube had instructions on that, too.      


March 30, 2021

Georgia Environmental Hall of Shame nominees?

            Looking around distant corners can be iffy, but we can rely on an old adage: “The past 

is a good predictor of the future.”

As expected, 2021’s General Assembly was a game of political hopscotch. Two steps forward and one step back. Or vice versa. And as in the past, stewardship of our natural resources and environment did not leap two steps forward.

Why’s that?

Deep-pocketed polluters have more influence on decision-makers. Money talks. Big money screams in the natural resources and environment committees of the House and Senate. Evaluate what happens in both committees, chaired by Rep. Lynn Smith (R-Newnan) and Sen. Tyler Harper (R-Ocilla). 

I have always believed our state’s God-given, irreplaceable assets belong to 10 million Georgians and not to a select few. Furthermore, this issue has become politicized by pitting Democrats against Republicans. Don’t the constituents of both parties deserve quality of life supported by clean air and safe water? 

Forget politics 

Do the right things. Don’t solve one problem by creating another. Year after year, that’s exactly what happens when legislators kowtow to big-money influencers. Profits are vital. As a 50-year businessman who has signed thousands of paychecks, I get that. But the bottom line should never sacrifice people or safety.

This year’s General Assembly is history. Here are three disappointing but predictable outcomes:

Toxic coal ash

Rep. Vance Smith (R-Pine Mountain) authored House Bill 647 to have Georgia Power monitor its unlined toxic coal-ash ponds for 50 years rather than 30. He wanted safety assurance for his grandson’s generation. 

Amen, brother

His measure flew through the House. But in the Senate, the bill fluttered and fell. Sen. Frank Ginn (R-Danielsville), former committee chair of natural resources and environment, led the beatdown. I am not surprised. After all, he was the hired gun who brought Georgia Renewal Power (GRP) plants into Madison and Franklin counties. 

Both communities have benefited from jobs and ad valorem tax boosts. But ask residents about the environmental nightmares they have suffered. Who buys GRP’s output? Georgia Power.

Has Georgia’s dominant utility pressured GRP to clean up its act? Not to my knowledge. And what company flexed its muscles to squash Rep. Debbie Buckner’s (D-Junction City) House Bill 176 to require toxic coal ash to be removed from unlined ponds (some are leaking) and placed into lined impoundments? Georgia Power, of course.

Senate Bill 260

Agriculture is Georgia’s biggest industry. Because we love to eat, we should love our farmers. And I love both. But because of high-powered lobbyists, it’s not that simple. They spin it as if rural residents are against farmers. That’s just wrongheaded.

Here's an example: 

Sen. Harper’s SB 260 sought to establish a 100-foot setback for dumping sludge—foul-smelling industrial waste—in the name of soil amendments. The argument is that 100 feet is the maximum allowed by law. But 100 feet, really? Why not just pile the putrid mixture on your neighbor’s back porch? 

Again, efforts to solve one problem—by looking for a cheap way to get rid of noxious waste—creates another problem. To make matters worse, SB 260 would restrict counties from enacting local ordinances to protect the quality of life of its residents. Unless significant last-minute changes are made to this bill to rein in the “bad actors,” phew!­

Environmental Hall of Shame­

Despite 2021’s disappointments, Georgians, we must strengthen our resolve to stand up for the people and places we love. And by examining the past, we can predict legislators will return in 2022. But we can’t wait until January to make our voices heard.

In the meantime, perhaps we should establish the Georgia Environmental Hall of Shame.

I have some nominees. 

How about you? 


March 23, 2021

City-girl-farm-girl adventure launches 54-year friendship

             When our parents—Albert and Flora, Lamar and Willene—brought us to the University of Georgia, we were strangers. I remember walking into brand-new Brumby Hall’s room 641, and there you were—sitting on a pull-out bed. You said, “Hello! I’m Judy Mizell, and I am Jewish … but not orthodox!” I’m not sure what I said other than, “I’m Pam Shirah from Camilla.” Maybe I said, too, “I’m Baptist.” 

And right there, in 1967, the city-girl-farm-girl adventure began.

We couldn’t have come from more different backgrounds. You grew up with honking horns and Atlanta’s skyline in the background. I grew up on a dirt road, a farmer’s daughter, 4 miles from a loaf of bread at the Hopeful Store. You introduced me to bagels and lox. I taught you how to spread mayhaw jelly on a buttered homemade biscuit.

A thousand and one things have changed since then. In those days, freshmen couldn’t have cars. Coeds couldn’t wear shorts, except in PE, unless covered by raincoats. London Fog did a booming business at UGA. There were curfews and rules against us wearing curlers outside the dorm.

Cooking in dorm rooms was prohibited, but shhhh. We did. Cell phones? Emails? What were those? We had Ma Bell. And when the long-distance charges arrived each month—from your talking to Dan Wolbe at LSU—you always yelped, “Albert is going to kill me!” Of course, your dad didn’t, and now you two lovebirds are celebrating your 50th wedding anniversary.

            But I’m getting ahead of myself.

            Back to Brumby. 

Remember Tuesday—April 9, 1968—just before midnight? Our dorm made national news when the boiler exploded, twice. And where were you? Trying to get back from the first floor, after a vending-machine run for candy. The dorm was dark. I ran looking for you, calling, “Judy! Judy!” When I got near the elevator, I could hear you. The elevator was stuck between floors, and we had to help you crawl up and out.

            All 900 girls were ordered to evacuate. Putting on our raincoats and grabbing our toothbrushes, we hit the stairs, walking all six floors down into the chilly darkness. UGA helped us find safe places for the next few days. 

            Yes, yes.

            So many memories of our life-changing two years together.

            And look at us now.

            We are grandmothers and married to the same men for a total of 102 years. Dink and I will soon be married 52 years. You and Dan celebrated your golden wedding anniversary on March 14, which would have been my mother’s 94th birthday.

            And in these COVID-19, socially distanced days, I wish that I could hug your neck. Instead, I am going to spread mayhaw jelly on a toasted bagel to celebrate our 54 years of friendship.

Judy, what a blessing you’ve been in my life.

            I send my love and congratulations to you and Dan.

(Note: A 1968 blind date with Judy Mizell’s UGA roommate was the beginning of a courtship and our soon-to-be 52 years of marriage. This week, I yield my column to Pam so that my wife can tell how the city-girl-farm-girl adventure evolved into 54 years of friendship.) 


March 16, 2021

Georgia’s Gold Dome has a ‘Death Valley,’ too

            On the South Carolina side of Lake Hartwell, there’s a giant gridiron edifice that you can see from your boat. Clemson’s stadium is dubbed Death Valley. Indeed, Coach Dabo Sweeney and his orange-clad Tigers have a tradition of laying to rest their opponents.

            But this time, I’m not talking football.

            If you jump on I-85 South—near Clemson—and drive 125 miles, you’ll find another “Death Valley.” You can see it from Atlanta’s Downtown Connector. Just look for a big gold dome. 

            Under our state’s iconic Gold Dome, a legion of lawmakers determine in which direction Georgia is going. Many laws are great and well-intentioned, but some proposed measures are never discussed. Zilch. I know of one such place where that happens, every year.

            “Death Valley”

That’s why I call the House of Representatives’ committee on natural resources and environment “Death Valley.” The longtime chair is Rep. Lynn Ratigan Smith, R-Newnan. If she doesn’t like a proposed bill, it dies on her desk. 

            For six years, I’ve been focused on toxic coal ash. Rep. Smith knows a lot about coal ash, too. Georgia Power’s former coal-fired Plant Yates sits outside Newnan on the banks of the Chattahoochee River. Georgia Power admits some of its unlined coal-ash ponds are sitting in groundwater and leaking.

            What’s in coal ash?

            The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—after heavy political influencing—ruled coal ash is a nonhazardous material. I guess they thought we shouldn’t be alarmed about dangerous heavy metals such as lead, mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium and selenium. Perhaps the federal agency should ask the residents of Flint, Michigan: “What part of lead in your drinking water isn’t hazardous to your health?” 

            Now back to the Gold Dome.

            Georgia Power is one of our state’s greatest assets. Beyond just lighting our darkness, the utility does a multitude of important things. But with all of its good deeds, Georgia Power wants us to overlook that its underbelly is coated with more than 50 million tons of toxic coal ash. And that brings me to our “Death Valley,” not Clemson’s.

            If imaginary British sleuth Sherlock Holmes were stalking our legislative halls, he would say, “They don’t call it Georgia Power for naught.” Nothing—absolutely nothing—moves through Rep. Smith’s committee that doesn’t have Georgia Power’s stamp of approval.

            Want a 2021 example?

            House Bill 176 was submitted to the natural resources and the environment’s committee. The bill would have required Georgia Power to excavate coal ash from unlined impoundments and put the toxic material in lined pits. Liners aren’t perfect, but that’s better than letting coal ash pollute the groundwater. (And I advocate putting those lined pits on Georgia Power property. Don’t make the company’s problem someone else’s misery.)

            What happened to HB 176? 

The buzzards—this year—can pick its bones in the House’s “Death Valley.” Georgia Power apparently asked the chair to let it die.

            Does this make me dislike Rep. Smith? 

Oh, no. 

We are both graduates of Jesup High School. I am partial to home folks, but I am disappointed with her kowtowing to Georgia Power. The state’s largest utility doesn’t own our environment. Our natural resources belong to all 10 million Georgians. 

            Georgia has a major coal-ash problem. The Public Service Commission (PSC) granted Georgia Power $8 billion—of ratepayers’ money—to clean up its toxic coal-ash piles.  I don’t understand why there is a hesitancy to do what’s in the long-term best interest of Georgia’s people and our environment.

            Duh, but I do understand.

            With the help of “Death Valley,” Georgia Power gets to decide which environmental legislation lives or dies.