January 26, 2022

Georgians should speak up for common sense


              Right now, high-paid influence peddlers are working around the clock under the Gold Dome. Some of what they are “peddling” isn’t in Georgia’s best interest.

Quite the opposite.

Throughout the General Assembly, you can find evidence where special interests, rather than common sense, are the rule. A good place to observe that is in the House and Senate committees on Natural Resources and Environment. These elected men and women have an avalanche of documents to read and digest. That’s why lobbyists for the polluters are ever ready to glaze over threats to our natural resources and environment while touting the wishes of their clients.

Here are two examples:

Mining next to the Okefenokee

Twin Pines’ lust for mining on the lip of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge is a foolhardy scheme. Furthermore, digging deep holes in Trail Ridge, which borders the Swamp, would be reckless endangerment to an irreplaceable natural wonder. There’s but one Okefenokee. Where are the logic and common sense in doing anything that could cause irreparable harm?

Yes, I understand there is a severe hunger for jobs in Charlton County. But why be shortsighted and prostitute what cannot be replaced? The right approach is for Georgia’s Department of Economic Development to partner with our down-the-road neighbors and find eco-friendly employers. Among the Folkston area’s amenities are proximity to I-95, the ports in Brunswick and Jacksonville, and people ready to work.

Much of rural Georgia is starving for good-paying jobs. But I’ve said this before, “I would not trust our irreplaceable natural resources to the Alabama mining company.” I hope Georgia’s environmental decision-makers will evaluate Twin Pines’ track record and rely on common sense to say, “No, thanks.”

If you want a qualified opinion about the Okefenokee proposal, email me. I will send you Dr. Rhett Jackson’s—UGA Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources—research paper on the ill effects of Twin Pines’ plan. The science-based facts recommend, in my words, “Don’t walk away … run!”

That’s advice our General Assembly members won’t hear from the highly paid lobbyists.

 Toxic-coal-ash storage

            The state of Georgia has an opportunity to be a national example of how to responsibly store toxic coal ash. You should be concerned that the Peach State won’t win that distinction, courtesy of Georgia Power’s army of high-pressured lobbyists. The behemoth utility—the one that does so much good—is not doing such a good job of storing every ounce of its estimated 90 million tons of poisonous coal waste in an eco-friendly manner.


            We’re back to those lobbyists, who are laser-focused on the General Assembly, our Public Service Commission, our Department of Natural Resources and its Environmental Protection Division (EPD). Those lobbyists have succeeded in selling their clients—Georgia Power and its parent, the Southern Company—as “sacred cows” whose bottom lines cannot be harmed.

            Again, the science is clear. Coal ash is loaded with heavy metals, toxic to our health. Georgia Power has dewatered some of its coal-ash ponds. A portion of the material is stored in lined landfills. Good for Georgia Power. But the scary truth is that the company wants to leave too much coal ash in unlined pits, sitting in groundwater and leaking. Georgia Power promises to monitor the situation.

Where’s the common sense in any of that?

Time won’t cure a toxic-coal-ash sore.

Georgia Power has the land and the resources to build its own lined storage facilities, away from streams and wetlands.

            Right now, proposed legislation to protect the Okefenokee and safer storage of toxic coal ash is being weighed under the Gold Dome.

            Corporate lobbyists are being heard.

            If Georgians remain silent, shame on us.       







January 19, 2022

A championship ‘connection’ you might overlook


            The Bulldog Nation—almost 100,000 strong—was shivering on Saturday. Shivering from the icy winds. Shivering from the excitement of UGA, beating Alabama, 33-18, and bringing home the national championship trophy. The 41-year wait to bark with this much joy is over.

Woof, woof!

Standing before a nearly packed Sanford Stadium, Coach Kirby Smart said one word defined the difference between his 2021 team and all others. He told the red-and-black-clad crowd that the defining word was “connection.” I like that. And when Georgia whipped Michigan’s Wolverines, you didn’t see Bulldogs doing cartwheels in the Orange Bowl. Instead, the team’s connectivity and its focus lasered on the ultimate challenge, the Crimson Tide.

                As members of the 1980 championship team hoisted the 2021 flag over Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium, another thought of “connection” came to mind. There’s a common denominator in the 1980 and 2021 national championship teams. It’s a town, 210 miles south of Athens. One route is down Hwy. 15—through Herschel Walker and Loran Smith’s hometown of Wrightsville—to Baxley. At the courthouse, turn left on U.S. 341 and split the pines, 30 miles to Jesup.

                What does that Southeast Georgia community, my hometown, have to do with the Bulldogs’ winning two national championships? Plenty, if you consider how these dots from 1980 connect to 2021.

                One play in 1980 bought the Dawgs a first-class ticket to the Sugar Bowl. Can you hear Larry Munson, in Jacksonville, gasp and growl, “You gave up … I did, too?” That was after Buck Belue “was in trouble” and put the pigskin into the hands of No. 24, who outran 11 orange-and-blue Gators to the end zone. Not far behind Lindsay Scott was his coach, Vince Dooley, racing down the sideline, on his way to New Orleans.

                Without that “run, Lindsay, run” play, there’d be no 1980 championship flag flapping over Sanford Stadium. Herschel leapt into the Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s end zone, but it was Jesup-born Lindsay who raced into UGA’s history books. Many call it the greatest Bulldog play ever. We should bark our gratitude for Raymond and Johnnie Mae Scott, whose son, Lindsay, laid down his trumpet in the ninth grade and laced on a pair of Wayne County Yellow Jackets football cleats.  

Then there’s another set of Jesup parents, Buddy and Jayne Bennett, whose children are Rick, Jan, John, William and Stetson III. See where I’m headed? But first, let’s talk about Buddy, the scrambling quarterback, who led the Jesup Yellow Jackets to a 1954 state championship.

Buddy took his cleats to Deland, Florida. to play for Stetson University. After his first season, the school ditched football. Buddy sat out a year with a concussion. From Jesup, he hitchhiked to the University of South Carolina.

In Columbia, Buddy was deep on the depth chart. In his senior year—when the starting quarterback went down—Buddy came off the bench to commandeer his team to win three of its last four games and lead the Gamecocks in rushing. Sounds familiar, huh?

Buddy died in 2016, but his grandson Stetson Bennett IV proved his granddaddy’s gridiron DNA was “alive,” as he earned offensive MVP trophies in both the Orange Bowl and the national championship game. He didn’t win those games by himself, but his leadership and skills connected with his teammates.

Blackshear claims Stet IV as its own, but the superstar’s roots—just like Lindsay Scott’s—are deep in Jesup soil.

Coach Smart is right. Connection made the difference with his Number 1 team.

And I couldn’t overlook the “connection” between Jesup and the 1980 and 2021 national championship Bulldogs.

Woof, woof!


‘Daddy let me drive’


            One is legal.  Another is legal, with adult supervision.  Six others—when they come to Grandpa’s—can’t wait to be 15 and 16.  They want to drive, drive anything.  And that’s what we do.  If it’s got a motor and a steering wheel, here we go.

            Daughter Emily, mother of four boys, lives in Coweta County, not far from Alan Jackson’s hometown of Newnan.  When she hears the country balladeer sing “Daddy let me drive,” she reaches for a Kleenex.

            Ahhhhhh, the memories.

            An old Jeep—waiting to be restored—sits under the barn, collecting dust with the memories.  Emily and her brothers, Alan and Eric, wore out the dirt roads on our place in that Jeep.  Just looking at it, I can hear Alan Jackson singing, in his rich baritone, “... I’d sit up in the seat and stretch my feet out to the pedals, smiling like a hero that just received his medal.”

            I also remember the day Eric was playing in a basketball tournament in Rome.  We decided mastering big-city driving would be Emily’s ultimate driving test.  She started out excited, and she navigated I-85 just fine.  But then came I-285.

            Emily championed about 10 miles before she turned on the blinker and pulled to the shoulder of the chaotic North Atlanta loop.  Tears the size of marbles tumbled down her teenage cheeks.  “I don’t care if I never drive again,” she wailed.  The last time I was in Atlanta, sloshing through six lanes of sideways rain and disruptive road construction, I didn’t cry.  I just wished someone else was driving.

            But when the youngest of the grandchildren are visiting, they want to drive.  There’s a race to see who’s first behind the wheel.  A small ruckus erupts. I am the referee, establishing the who-drives-when roster.

            When warm weather permits, gasoline or diesel isn’t required.  I keep a couple of batteries charged for the trolling motors. Around and around the pond, they guide the pontoon boat or flatbottom fishing boat.  Over the squeals and laughter, I hear Alan Jackson, “…  just a little lake across the Alabama line, but I was king of the ocean when daddy let me drive.”

            Now that Mother Nature has sent us shiver season, the boats are in dry dock.  These days, I’m likely to hear, “Grandpa, can I drive the tractor?”  Thank you, Lord, for an enclosed cab.  I sit way back in the seat.  A pint-sized farmer is between my legs and steering us from fence line to fence line.  There’s always the plea, “Grandpa, can I do the pedals?” 


But in my farm truck, if they’re sitting between my legs, I say, “OK.” 

Invariably, the next question is, “Grandpa, can I gas it?” 


Well, sometimes, if we’re on the driveway’s asphalt straight-of-way with no trees around, I nod, “OK.” 

The squeals last for every inch of the 50-yard stretch, and then I give my standard speed-kills sermonette.

Yep, just the other day, 9-year-old Bayard “gassed it.” On cue, there was Alan Jackson, again, “…  maybe one day they’ll reach back in their file and pull out that old memory and think of me and smile.”

Uhhh, Emily.

You got a Kleenex?  


January 5, 2022

Stetson scores one for dreamers


            Long before he could shake a red and black pompom, Stetson Bennett IV was destined to be a Georgia Bulldog.  Three days before the future quarterback was born in 1997, his mom was sitting in Sanford Stadium, shaking her red and black pompom. Both of No. 13’s parents—Denise and Stetson III—are graduates of UGA’s pharmacy school.

            By now, if you follow college football, you know Stetson’s storybook path from walking on at Georgia in 2017, with no scholarship, to walking away from the 2021 Orange Bowl with its offensive MVP trophy.  He got that award the old-fashioned way—he earned it, with his arm, his legs and his third-generation gridiron DNA.  Stetson connected 20 of his 30 passes—with no interceptions—for 313 yards and three touchdowns.  And the Wolverines’ sack-happy defensive ends never caught scrambling Stetson.

Did the MVP hoist the massive silver bowl over his head for the world to see?

            No, that’s not Stetson.

What he did do was to give credit to his teammates and coaches. And while No. 13 was on the ceremonial stage in Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, fans joined his teammates chanting, “Stetson, Stetson, Stetson!” Interlaced were chants of “Mailman, Mailman, Mailman!” How Stetson got the nickname is another chapter in his storybook. One day at Pierce County High School football practice, he showed up wearing a U.S. Postal Service cap.  During Stet’s career, he rushed for more than 1,000 yards and passed for 9,000-plus yards, racking up about 100 touchdowns.  Yep, the “Mailman” really delivered for the Bears. 

Surely Sports Illustrated will stumble upon this story one day.

During the Michigan-Georgia game, I heard one of ESPN’s announcers say, “Stetson may never take a snap in the NFL, but he is already a legend with the Bulldogs.”  Legend, I agree.  About the NFL, I am not so sure.  You and I have seen a host of undersized overachievers excel at the “next level.” 

No, I am not going to second-guess any of Stetson’s dreams.

Let’s say Stetson never takes a pro snap. Still, he has become a legend that extends far beyond the Bulldog Nation. Stetson is a testament to the power of determination in chasing your dream.  Imagine how many little-boy dreamers will study the story of Stetson and tell themselves, “I can do that, too.”

But those dreamers will need to take their studies deeper into Stetson’s life.  Stet III organized a wrestling program to help his young son get stronger. Stet IV played basketball and ran track, a sprinter. As a shortstop, he was named Georgia’s Class AAA baseball player of the year. He could have claimed a college baseball scholarship—no doubt—but his dream was to quarterback the Georgia Bulldogs.

Stetson Bennett IV decided that as soon as he was old enough to shake a red and black pompom.


December 21, 2021

The Legend of Len Hauss


(Note: This eulogy was delivered on Dec. 20 in Jesup First Baptist Church.)
            Len Hauss.

            I can close my eyes and see the Yellow Jackets’ fullback, no. 41, piledriving Jesup to a 1959 state football championship.

            I can imagine hearing the shoulder pads pop as he blocked for the Georgia Bulldogs.

            And I’ll never forget the days when NFL players introduced themselves before televised games.

            Len Hauss put his hometown on the map.

            No. 56, the All-Pro center of the Washington Redskins, would say, with a grin, “I’m Len Hauss from Jesup, Georgia. I catch more redbreasts than anyone in the NFL.”

            Fifteen years ago, Gov. Sonny Perdue asked to go fishing in one of our lakes.  I couldn’t go that day, but I arranged for the best fisherman I knew to be the governor’s guide, the retired captain of the ’Skins.  Len and Sonny filled the boat.

            Len filled thousands of lives with inspiration, too. 

I am one of the many inspired by Len.

            Len and I met right here in First Baptist Church. 

On a Sunday morning in May 1957, the Rev. Floyd Jenkins baptized us both.

As I stood on the baptism pool’s steps, I watched Brother Jenkins lift Len from the water.

Then it was my turn.

And during those years, my mother was First Baptist Church’s youth department director.

Two of her favorite teenagers were Janis Johnson and Len Hauss. 

For as long as Mother lived, she’d reminisce about those days and smile.

Mother and Len’s sister, Lenelle, team-taught an adult Sunday school class for years.

The Hauss, Johnson and NeSmith families have loved each for more than 70 years.

Thank you, Janis, for giving me this honor to remember Len.

There are so many memories, like the time Len came to Athens for Charley Trippi Day. The event was organized by Loran Smith, who traveled with me today. Charley Trippi is arguably the most gifted athlete to ever play for the Georgia Bulldogs.  On Dec. 14, Charley blew out every one of his 100 birthday candles. Charley was on Wally Butts’ 1960’s coaching staff when Len went to Georgia as a combination fullback and linebacker.

During Charley’s special day, I listened to Charley and Len banter back and forth.  Charley teased, “Lenny, you had a great NFL career.  And that nice pension check you are drawing, well, I think you ought to share some of it with me.”

Len stepped back and asked, “Coach, why would you say?”

“Well, Lenny,” Charley said, “I was the one who convinced Coach Butts to switch you to center.  You wouldn’t have made it in the pros as a fullback, but you were a great All-Pro center.”

I can still hear Charley and Lenny laughing.

Len Hauss and I shared two beloved mentors—Jimmy Sullivan and Dr. Lanier Harrell.  For as long as Jimmy Sullivan lived, Len and I knew that Mr. Sullivan was always cheering for us.  And there’s Dr. Lanier Harrell, a loyal listener and an irreplaceable source of wisdom.  If Wayne County were to compile a list of legends, I’m sure Mr. Sullivan and Doc would agree.  Let’s put Len at the top.  And, Janis, I know Len would have agreed with me.  Jimmy Sullivan and Doc would have to be on that list of legends, too.

I never told Len this, but he was one of my boyhood heroes.

Len and that championship team are why, as a skinny 122-pound freshman, I just had to be a Yellow Jacket.

I wanted to play on the same field where Len Hauss earned All-America honors.

There was no future for me in football, but I carried the value of teamwork into my future. Football is where a skinny teenager gained self-confidence. Football is where I would get knocked down and then find the mental and physical courage to get back up.  That experience is where I also learned the importance of having a backbone and the guts to stand up against all odds.  For whatever success I have had or will have, I can thank Len for helping to inspire me to strap on a football helmet. In my generation, I know that am not alone in saying that.

People die twice.

First, the heart stops.

Len Hauss’ heart stopped on Dec. 15.

The second time a person dies is when the stories and the memories stop.

Len Hauss, in his 79 years, left enough memories that his legend will never stop.

           What an inspiration.

           What a blessing.

           What a friend.

           Thank you, Len Hauss.            







December 15, 2021

The smells of Christmas


            “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.”

            Yes, indeed.

            And it’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas, too.

            Thirty-eight Christmases ago, our younger son, Eric, was quoted by radio personality Paul Harvey. I had been sending him a weekly edition of our newspaper. From time to time, in his Chicago studio, he’d read snippets to his national audience.

One morning, Harvey pulled a line from my column. In his trademark cheerful voice, he said, “Eric NeSmith, in Jesup, Georgia, says, ‘It’s not Christmas unless you can smell the tree.’”

            What smells like Christmas to you?

            Steaming, spiced apple cider?

            Sugar cookies, fresh from the oven?


            Peppermint candy?

            And of course, Eric, the tree.

            For me?

            Ditto to all of the above, but you have to add oil.

            That’s right.

Since I was 12, a whiff of 3-IN-ONE oil takes me back to Christmas 1960.

            I knew what I wanted, but I had no idea how I would get it.

            My mother’s brothers—Joe and Billy—didn’t have sons, so they picked me to tag along on their hunting and fishing trips. I dreamed of the day that I’d get to aim my own shotgun at a blur of bobwhite quail. But I knew that day was out there, way out there. In the meantime, I toted an unloaded Daisy BB gun. Uncles Joe and Billy watched my every step, making sure that I had absorbed their safety lectures.

Eventually, I got to stand with them behind their bird dogs and a covey. I couldn’t shoot, but they let me practice picking out a single bird and pretend I was hunting. I don’t know which quivered more, the liver-spotted pointers’ rigid tails or my heart. Unless you’ve witnessed the explosion of brown and white feathers from beneath your feet while knee-deep in a briar patch, well, words have a hard time explaining it. Just the surprise of what you know is coming is still exhilarating, all these years later.

By the time I was 10, I had graduated to a .410 single-barrel. In between coveys, I carried the unloaded shotgun, pointing to the sky or the ground. My dungaree pockets were stuffed with shells. More than ever, my uncles watched me. Mile after mile, we tromped through the Southwest Georgia woods of my kinfolks and their friends. With each step, I yearned for the quail season, when I’d have a shotgun, just like Joe and Billy’s. They called theirs a “Sweet 16.” That was my dream—a Model 12 Winchester 16-guage pump.

And that was the only thing on my 1960 Christmas wish list.

I had no idea how Santa could afford such as an extravagant item.

But my dear mother had an idea.

That Christmas season, she wrapped packages at Maxwell’s Department Store on Cherry Street. During one of her breaks, she walked next door to Harper’s Hardware. Forrest Harper has just what her 12-year-old wanted.

With a few dollars down, Mother put a Sweet 16 on layaway. On Christmas Eve, she handed over her holiday earnings to pay off the balance on the $65 purchase. Christmas morning, uncles Joe and Billy were on the phone. They might have been as excited as I was.

I can’t tell you how many cans of gun-cleaning oil that I’ve gone through in the past 61 years, but it’s going to be at least one more.

This Christmas, I’m giving myself another can of 3-IN-ONE oil.

One whiff, and I will be reminded the best gifts are always wrapped in love.