More Memories of Otis A. Brumby Jr.
September 11, 2012 12:51 PM | 2153 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Matt Towery

Syndicated columnist and pollster

Otis took Cobb from a small semi-rural suburban County, sometime pulling it, sometimes pushing it, sometimes shoving it, into a major suburban sophisticated, energetic part of metro Atlanta. He was the one consistent force that outlasted politicians, preachers, pundits and people. I have known many, many people in the media. And I’ve never known anyone so devoted to one county and one city. I many times suggested he change the name to the “Cobb Daily News.” But he simply would not abandon the Marietta name because of tradition and his devotion to Marietta.

I got to see him at his greatest, in the 1990s, when he was a man in full. He had Newt Gingrich as speaker, he was dealing with every superpower from developers to county commissioners, he had Johnny Isakson who was clearly rising to great prominence and a friend in Roy Barnes who was on the road to apex of government power.

I saw him negotiate through crisis after crisis. When the Cobb Commission approved its anti-gay resolution, which was extremely damaging to the county, he was able to eventually shut it down through the power of the press.

And the Cobb Galleria Center convention hall would not have happened the way it did and would not have been called what it was without Otis. He was upset that “Cobb” was not going to be in the name. Had it been “The Galleria Center” or “The Cobb Center” it would not have meant anything to anybody, but I was there at a conference call at which he brokered a deal for the name it has now.

And that kind of thing happened over and over again. When someone at the Chamber got in trouble, it was Otis that they called. The “Around Town” column might have caused trouble, but it also soothed a lot of trouble and made a lot of things go away.

“If you were his enemy, you were his enemy. You didn’t just take a bite of Otis Brumby. But many of his enemies became his friends. And you couldn’t have a better friend. He could be tough on people. But if he was your friend you could count on him being loyal and supportive.

I would not be a nationally syndicated columnist if he had not been willing to give me a shot and run my first column. He was a testing ground for journalists all over America.

And don’t sell short his brilliance in creating the Neighbor Newspapers. What would Buckhead socialites do if they didn’t have the Buckhead Neighbor to see their pictures in? And ironically, it was created by somebody who didn’t consider himself a socialite and who the Buckhead socialites back then might have looked down their nose at. But someone from Marietta turned out to be the one who, thanks to the Neighbor, created a unified Buckhead. …

He had a tremendous sense of humor and these great one-sentence descriptions of people, like “Old So-and-So fell into a whiskey bottle,” or “I think there’s something up with his wife” or “Didn’t he have sticky fingers at the bank?”

I had a Christmas party at my house one time, with a big fire in the fireplace, and we had forgotten to open the flue. Otis and Buddy Darden were the first two to arrive as the house suddenly filled up with smoke, and Buddy said, “Matt, I think your house is on fire!” and it was so funny, Otis just said, “Matt, this wood smoke really gives your house more of a ‘Christmas’ feel.”

I knew this day was coming. I just don’t know what life will be like in this county or this state without him. He was one of most fabulous humans I’ve ever known. I loved him as part of my family.

I’m not anything big in this world, but I wouldn’t be anything without Otis Brumby. A lot of people think they made it on their own, but they didn’t. They didn’t.

I have lost a priceless friend and we have lost a giant beyond compare.

‘If there was bad news, he reported it. If there was good news, he reported it.’

Max Bacon

Smyrna Mayor

Being born in Cobb County and growing up in Cobb County, the Brumbys, they were Cobb County. When you picked up the newspaper you always related to the Brumbys in that way. Just really well-respected folks, especially Otis.

My relationship with Otis later in my life has been more of a personal one. He saw a lot of things that we did in Smyrna that he wanted for Marietta and sometimes that caught folks short in the crosshairs I guess because they were trying as hard as they could in Marietta, and we were doing so many things in Smyrna.

I’m going to tell you, Otis was always fair with me. You may not always like what you read in the paper, but I can only tell you he was always extremely fair and reported the news. If there was bad news, he reported it. If there was good news, he reported it.

Whenever I saw him he always had a smile on his face. Whenever he and I talked I could say stuff to Otis that made him laugh and it wouldn’t get printed, which was great. He was always very encouraging to other cities other than Marietta about things that we had done. Just a very well-respected man. I thought he was a class guy. I’m going to miss him just from a personal standpoint and seeing him and talking to him.

He had that Southern drawl about him when he spoke, he sounded like somebody from Cobb County. Had it not been for him a lot of folks in the early days before all this technology came out, a lot of people would have never had known what was going on in the county. In the early days you went out to get the newspaper to see what the heck was going on. When I got on Council in 1980 that was how you found out what was going on in your community.

If anything, he kept folks informed whether they liked it or not. Everybody goes to the “Around Town” on Saturday to see if they’re in there or see if they’ve been blessed by making it another week not being in there.

We’re like everybody else. We took some bumps. The paper reported things that maybe I didn’t agree with but I never took anything personal with Otis Brumby. It was business. And although I could sit down with him and say I don’t think this was right the way this was presented, I could walk out of that room just like everything was OK. I never held anything personal against Otis because he was my friend and we treated each other like that. Everyone gets their turn in the barrel. You try to stay out of the barrel, but sometimes there are so many people in the barrel you can’t get in there. I’ve always thought the MDJ for the most part has given Smyrna a fair shake and given me personally as long as I’ve been in elected office a fair shake. I think he’ll be remembered I hope for the good things that he did for the county and for the things that he let people know about that otherwise they would not have ever known about. This was his home.

I think the bottom line with Otis is he wanted to see folks do good, especially the folks in Marietta. I know he’s going to be missed. Once somebody’s gone you remember how much they really meant to you and I think that’s what will happen to Otis. After he’s gone they’ll say “I wish Otis was back.” I think he’ll get more credit after he’s gone because he really did care about Cobb County.

‘He was one of the most courageous people I’ve ever known.’

Conley Ingram

Retired Georgia Supreme Court Justice, Marietta

I’m just devastated by the loss. We have been friends for as long as I remember. He was an extraordinary human being. A giant in the First Amendment. A great family man and church man and above all a loyal friend.

All these years I’ve been used to sitting right in front of him at church every Sunday until he got too sick to come. It won’t be the same without him.

His loss is one that’s dreadful for us as close friends, for our community and for our church. He was one of most courageous people I’ve ever known.

He took everything and did the best he could with it. He was generous, steady and reliable.

He had an extraordinary mind. He could have excelled in the law as a lawyer or judge. He would have succeeded in any endeavor he chose. And he succeeded in the law by his championing of the First Amendment in such a strong way. He led the fight to help it come alive here in Georgia.

If I live to 150 I’ll never forget the luncheon the Vinings Bank had for him right after he got sick, when he got up and said, “I may have cancer in my bones, but I still have ink in my blood.” And that was Otis.

He was a great man and it’s very hard to give him up.

‘As we got to know each other ... I realized he wasn’t tough, he was just looking out for Cobb.’

Bob Ott

East Cobb Commissioner

I first met Otis when I ran for commissioner. As I sat at the interview after announcing my run he was the one asking the probing questions and I was thinking how tough he was.

As we got to know each other better I realized he wasn’t tough, he was just looking out for Cobb. Otis always had Cobb County’s and Marietta’s best interests at heart. He truly loved both.

Even if I didn’t always agree with his position on a topic, I understood he was simply watching out for his hometown.

After my dad died from prostate cancer in 2008 and Otis found out he was sick our relationship became even stronger. We both knew and understood what he was going through. Many times when we talked it wasn’t about a county issue but instead his illness

Through it all, he was strong and courageous as the cancer worked its course.

In spite of continuous pain near the end he was still a newsman. His body might have been losing the battle but he was still interested to know what was going on.

I always enjoyed our conversations because it never seemed like I was talking to a reporter, it was more a chat with a friend. I will miss those conversations.

‘He’s certainly been a servant to Marietta, Cobb County and to the University of Georgia. ...’

Vince Dooley

Retired UGA football coach and athletic director, who served with Brumby on the UGA Foundation

He’s certainly been a servant to Marietta, Cobb County and to the University of Georgia. He had a great affection for all his experiences at the university and he’s touched countless numbers of people.

I’ll always remember our last visit. I was trying to get a book to him and didn’t know the best way to do it. I finally called him direct and he was excited about (me paying a visit). We had a really nice visit. I knew he was sick, but he acted just like it never happened. He looked so good and was doing so well you just thought he might have a little more time.

‘Whether you agreed or disagreed with him, you always knew his focus was on what was best for our community.’

David Connell

President and CEO Cobb Chamber of Commerce

“As the history of our community is examined, it becomes clear that Otis Brumby, Jr. was one of only a few community leaders who are responsible for the success Cobb has witnessed during the past three decades. His focus on preserving the taxpayer’s trust in its elected officials, governmental leaders and our community institutions ensured that Cobb County would never experience the scandals that we have seen in so many other communities.

Otis will always be remembered as a staunch advocate for transparency and maintaining the First Amendment rights that we enjoy as Americans. I have always been impressed by his unwavering commitment to these principals, and he will never know how much I admired him for this. Whether you agreed or disagreed with him, you always knew his focus was on what was best for our community.”

‘Time and time again Otis went to bat ... to enforce and strengthen Georgia’s open-government laws’

David HudsonCounsel, Georgia Press AssociationOtis Brumby has been a champion of the public’s right to know. He truly believed, as the Georgia Constitution states, that public officeholders are the “servants” of the people. Time and time again Otis went to bat in Cobb County and in negotiations with State legislators to enforce and strengthen Georgia’s open government laws and to prevent efforts to erect loopholes that would allow more of the public’s business to be kept secret.

Thomas Jefferson once said that “when the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe.” Otis Brumby kept that flame alive and well. Now that he belongs to the ages, the rest of us must make that our calling, too.

‘We only had one disagreement ...’

Steve Thompson

State Sen. (D-Marietta)

He was a friend of my Daddy’s before me, and I considered him to be a good friend. I thought of him on Father’s Day because he’s not only been a father to Cobb but to the whole region in its growth and shape and all the positive things. If you knew Otis long enough you would disagree about something but your friendship was for life. We only had one disagreement in 40 years — and he explained it to me.

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