August 10, 2023

Happy 50th birthday, Alan!


Dear Alan:

            Do you remember our bouncing down a dirt road in a tiny Nissan truck, and we were having a father-son conversation?

You were 10, and I asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

            “Ummm, I can tell you what I don’t want to be.”

            “OK, what?”

            “Well, I don’t want to be in the newspaper business.”


            “You work too much, and you come home grouchy.”

            “You are right about the work. I might not be able to change that, but I’ll do better with my attitude.

            “So, what do you think you’ll do?”

You grinned and said, “I think I’ll marry a doctor so that I can just hunt and fish.”

            We both laughed.

            Fast-forward 40 years.

            Now, what are you doing?

You are the chairman of the board of Community Newspapers Inc., publisher of newspapers and magazines in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina.

            And how did you get there?

You worked your way to the top. It all started in the Jesup mailroom of The Press-Sentinel. At 8 years old, you were tall enough to join the inserting crew. You got ink in your blood through the tips of your fingers, stuffing together sections of the newspaper. Your brother, Eric, couldn’t wait until he was 8. He stood on a Coca-Cola crate at age 7. Your sister, Emily, earned her spending money in the mailroom, too. Our family motto could be: “We will work.”

After the mailroom, you moved to the pressroom and deliveryman. You later were a sports reporter and then an ad salesman, followed by ad director, publisher, regional publisher and vice president, and then the board elected you chairman. When you celebrated your 50th birthday on July 31, I thought about your comment in 1983. You didn’t marry a doctor. Instead, you married a doctor’s beautiful daughter. Together, you and Heather have two sons—William, 14, and Fenn, 12. As hard as I’ve worked, I believe you work harder.

A while back, you laughed and said, “I remember you coming home and saying, ‘Just give me 10 minutes to relax.’ Today, I get that.” I suspect you’ve had your share of grouchiness, too.

Somewhere in your mid-20s, you said, “Dad, I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Newspapers are what I know, and that’s what I want to do. But first, I need to finish my education.” At 27, you enrolled in the University of Georgia. You worked full-time, and you said, “I’ve always said that I’d graduate by the time I was 30.”

In most of your classes, you were the oldest student. You sat up front. You were a sponge. And you conquered calculus. If you didn’t understand the day’s lesson, you followed the professor to his or her office. More than once, you teased your instructors, “I won’t give up on you if you don’t give up on me.”

The last 20 years have been a rocket ride.

Alan, your 34th year was an example. You married Heather Hammond of Fitzgerald. You were named to Georgia Trend magazine’s Top 40 Under 40, and your newspaper was judged Georgia’s best in its circulation category. The accolades began stacking up: Citizen of the Year, Industry of the Year, Rotary Club president, deacon, chamber of commerce chairman, economic development board chairman, chairman of Leadership Georgia (the only second-generation chairman in the organization’s 50-year history) and president of the Georgia Press Association. The list goes on, but here’s why I am most proud of you.

            Alan, you are a blue-ribbon family man.

            You are determined to be there for Heather, William and Fenn. Church, baseball, tennis, basketball, track, hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and travel keep you busy. You play as hard with your family as you work. If William and Fenn are involved in an activity, you will be there coaching or cheering.

            When your grandparents were alive, you called them regularly to say, “I love you.” And you call your mother and me almost daily, just to check on us. Physically, you stand tall. You are a big man with a big, big heart. Your family, your friends, your associates and your community know that they can count on you.

            Forty years have passed since we were bouncing along in that little blue truck. The memory makes me smile.

Alan, I’m mighty proud that you changed your mind.