Before I puff up too much at this milestone, I once mentioned to my friend, the late Furman Bisher, for years the sports editor of the Atlanta newspapers and one of the finest writers to ever put thought to paper, that I hoped one day to reach a thousand columns and wondered how many he had written. He wasn’t sure but thought it was somewhere north of 10,000. I changed the subject.
For the past 16 years, I have been churning out opinions on everything from the dysfunctional, blow-hard City of Atlanta to some of the characters who served on the Cobb school board and deemed themselves the reincarnation of Plato until the real world ate them up and spit them out.
A little background of how I arrived here: One of the most influential people in my life was Jasper Dorsey, a Marietta native who was in charge of Southern Bell’s Georgia operations. He taught me a lot about the telephone business, about people and about life. I greatly admired him and worked hard to follow in his footsteps. Earlier in his career, he had worked in the Bell System’s Washington office. A number of years later, I went to Washington in the same job. He retired as vice president of the company. I retired as vice president. He was president of the national alumni association at the University of Georgia. So was I.
In the next iteration of his life, Mr. Dorsey wrote a weekly newspaper column that appeared, among other places, in the Marietta Daily Journal. After my stint as a managing director of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games, a business publication in town asked me to write a guest column that got much notoriety. It dawned on me that perhaps I could write for the MDJ, too, and carry the comparison with my mentor a step further. The late Otis Brumby Jr., publisher of the Marietta Daily Journal and a friend to both Jasper Dorsey and me, took a leap of faith and gave me this opportunity. I will forever be grateful.
I have tried hard over the years to not allow myself to be typecast as having one particular political ideology. There is a place for those pundits who think liberals have all the answers as to what ails the country and for those who think only conservatives do. But not in this space. Most of us fall somewhere in between and that is where you will find me. Sometimes you will agree with me; sometimes, you won’t. But you’ll have to read more than a couple of paragraphs to find out.
I must admit — and I think you have discovered this over the past 999 columns — that I get great joy out of gigging the humor-impaired. Like grains of sand, they are too numerous to count, but I hear from a number of them whenever I prick their thin skin and pompous egos. Bless their hearts.
My goal is and has been to have a conversation with you each week — or in this case, twice a week. We have talked on numerous occasions about my family and you have told me how much you enjoy my annual letters to my grandsons, which has since morphed into yearly advice to my great-grandson, Cameron Charles Yarbrough. When we lost our oldest grandson, Zack, unexpectedly, your notes of encouragement got me through the darkest days of my life.
Zack was a junior at Georgia Tech and from a family of Georgia Bulldogs. He loved the place passionately. In my numbness, I wrote that I could never again tease the school or its supporters. That prompted a lot of mail from Tech people who said that (a) Zack would not have wanted that and (b) they could dish it out as well as take it and to keep it up. That was a classy thing to do and I remind them and myself it is all in good fun.
I have made some great friends through this column that I have yet to meet in person. We are email pen pals. Some of you I have met at speeches and art shows and am grateful for the opportunity.
There is no greater reward than having someone say, “Thank you for saying what I would like to have said but didn’t know how.” My most treasured comment came a few weeks after the 9/11 terrorists attacks when something I wrote prompted a reader to respond, “This is the first time I have laughed since that terrible day. Thank you.” It doesn’t get better than that. It also reminds me to remember why I do this and to take it seriously, even when I am trying to be funny.
I do admit to a few biases. I am an unapologetic advocate for public school teachers. I have three in my family. I know how hard they work and that most of their critics couldn’t carry their book bags. I have no patience with politicians and special interest groups and bureaucrats at all levels of government who claim they are trying to help teachers at the same time they are undermining them.
In closing, you may have noticed this column is a bit longer than usual. That is because I think the 1,000th column should have 1,000 words, even if I am not sure where the commas go. My thanks to Joe Kirby, the MDJ’s editorial page editor, who does know and who scrubs my columns clean before you ever see them. And thanks to the Woman Who Shares My Name and tempers my inclination to get a bit malevolent at times. Most of all, thank you for reading these my thoughts a thousand times over in the Marietta Daily Journal. It’s been a blast. Let’s do this again next week, shall we?
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com; at P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139; online at dickyarbrough.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dickyarb