It was supposed to be one and done, but it didn’t work out that way.
Seventeen years ago this week, I got a call from the editors of the Atlanta Business Chronicle asking me if I would do a guest editorial on my assessment of how the city of Atlanta had fared during the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. There is a God.
To say I unloaded on the city would be an understatement. I said Atlanta had a chance to put itself among the great cities of the world and had blown it. The city was like the braggart whose bluff was called and couldn’t deliver when the time came.
In spite of the fact that the 1996 Olympic Games were privately financed and the city was indemnified from any financial responsibility, the city astonishingly attempted to ambush our Olympic partners by offering sponsorships to competitors. The result was the ill-fated street-vendor program that looked like a Third World flea market on steroids and was an international embarrassment.
Space limitations didn’t allow me to talk about the city’s marketing director who made the city the laughingstock of the world by claiming he was going to beam ads off the moon as well as place little billboards on stray dogs. Cute.
Sadly, everyone — including the media, business and civic leaders — stood around and watched the city make a fool of itself on the world stage rather than risk Mayor Bill Campbell and his henchmen playing the race card. (I once told the Washington Post that Campbell could make a racial issue out of a lima bean. One of my better lines.)
Finally, I said Atlanta couldn’t even lay claim to being “The Next Great City.” That honor belonged to Charlotte, North Carolina, which took the title along with our bank headquarters.
Needless to say, the column caused quite a stir. The editors were delighted and asked if I would submit an occasional column in the future. One problem: I had solemnly sworn to the Woman Who Shares My Name that after 40 years of hard labor in the corporate world, I was really going to retire and learn to trim hedges and fix clogged drains or whatever retired people do. Say this for the woman: She knows a bald-faced liar when she sees one.
The occasional column became once a week. Then, longtime political sage Bill Shipp asked me to write for his weekly newsletter, and perhaps a few papers might pick up the column. Seventeen years and more than a thousand columns later, I reach more than 650,000 households a week across the state, from Donalsonville to Dalton. I have yet to trim a hedge or unclog a drain.
Revenues from the column go to support students at my beloved Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia and allow them the opportunity to network with industry leaders and get some practical experience as well.
I have learned a great deal in the past 17 years. I have learned the influence of these words. I still am amazed when someone repeats a line verbatim from a long-past column. I have learned that a lot of people insist on putting me in an ideological cubbyhole. A wasted effort. I defy stereotyping. This week’s target may be next week’s hero.
With all immodesty (modesty not being one of my strong suits), I consider myself the public-school teacher’s best friend and have no hesitancy to go through the Legislature like William Tecumseh Sherman through Georgia when I think our intrepid public servants are listening more to deep-pocketed special-interest groups trying to undermine public education than to schoolteachers. No apologies. I’m just trying to level the playing field.
How many more years will I continue this weekly dialogue? That is a question of interest to both my friends and enemies, and one to which I don’t have an answer. I guess as long as you show an interest in what I have to say. You have cried with me through personal tragedies and laughed at my silliness.
You have clipped and saved my letters to my grandsons and have rapped my knuckles when I have misused the English language (as I did last week). I suspect that when you think I have outlived my usefulness, you will tell the editors, and they will tell me. That’s only fair.
Frankly, I never thought it would last this long. It has been a great experience, and it sure beats trimming hedges. Thank you.
Contact Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; and online at dickyarbrough.com or facebook.com/dickyarb.