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The life and legacy of a great journalist
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Last week, I was at the sausage-making plant better known as the Georgia General Assembly. I was there for a good cause.
The Senate was honoring Dick Pettys, one of the finest journalists to walk through the doors of the state Capitol, and I was asked to be a part of that special day. Pettys covered state government for the Associated Press for four decades. He was a tough reporter, but a fair one. He was, in all respects, a Southern gentleman.
In October 2012, Pettys died of a heart attack, not long after he had retired and built his dream home in the mountains of North Georgia. Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, the powerful and not-so-powerful grieved for a good man who left us too soon. Thus, the state Senate has chosen to name its press gallery “The Dick Pettys Press Gallery.”
A wise decision. May those in the media who inhabit the area in the future be as good at their jobs as Pettys was.
Last year, state Rep. Joe Wilkinson, R-Sandy Springs, asked if I would be interested in painting Pettys’ portrait to hang in the offices of the Capitol Press Corps. (Truth in advertising: When not jerking the chains of the humor-impaired, I paint a bit.)
We discussed the idea with the Pettys family and House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge. Ralston thought it was a great idea and suggested I take off several months from writing the column to concentrate on the portrait. He was kidding. (I think.)
For those of you who dabble in art, you know portraits are not easy. Painting the portrait of someone who was a good friend and a colleague is even harder. Fortunately, I am blessed with an outstanding instructor, Kristopher Meadows of Marietta, who is an accomplished portrait artist. The Lord does provide.
The portrait presentation was a memorable one for the Pettys family — wife, Stephanie, and sons, Richard, Beaux and Chip. The senators seemed to enjoy it, too. Plus, it was my chance to get up-close-and-personal with a group of people who, if they object to my slings and arrows, don’t seem to take it personally. It’s not meant personally; it just goes with the territory.
Sen. Tim Golden, R-Valdosta, told me he was going to enjoy my opinions a lot more in the future, since he isn’t running for re-election. Go figure. Sen. Ronnie Chance, R-Tyrone, the Senate majority leader, said he is retiring, too. I hate to see him go. He is one of the most accessible members in the General Assembly and could teach his colleagues much about the fine art of good media relations.
I had a pleasant conversation with Sen. Jason Carter, D-Atlanta, a Democratic candidate for governor. I haven’t been particularly kind to his grandfather, former President Jimmy Carter. If that bothers him — and I suspect it does — he doesn’t let it show. He is an impressive young man with a straightforward manner and has this admirable trait of looking you directly in the eye when he talks to you. I like that. I like Jason Carter. That should confound my friends and frustrate my enemies.
I like that, too.
Ironically, we were there the day Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, gave up the ghost on derailing the Common Core curriculum. That saved me the time and trouble of reminding him and his supporters that if you are going to tell public schools how and what to teach our kids, then be sure it applies to your children as well. Too many legislators send their kids to private schools or homeschool them. They don’t have a clue what goes on in public schools and don’t seem to care. Why is it so hard for legislators and deep-pocketed special-interest groups to ask teachers their opinions? Could it be because they don’t want to know? I would suggest that next year, the senator instead push for a law that all legislators have to spend a week as a classroom teacher in a public school and see firsthand what teachers have to endure.
Oops! I’m getting cranky again. That’s enough about politics. This was a day for paying tribute to Pettys and for his family and friends to celebrate his legacy.
The only thing missing was Pettys himself. But he was there in spirit and will be forevermore. I’m glad I could be a part of the celebration.

Email Yarbrough at; write to P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, GA 31139; or go to or

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