It’s very hard to be a gentleman and a writer.
– W. Somerset Maugham
I would argue that Dick Pettys, the longtime political reporter for the Georgia Associated Press, wrote more stories for this newspaper than anyone in The Chronicle’s 227-year history.
Consider that Pettys, who passed away unexpectedly this week, could be counted on to provide at least one daily story about state government year after year through the 1970s, ’80s, ’90s and into this millennium before his retirement a few years ago.
Dick, however, is not being remembered this week for his longevity, but for his integrity, his competence and his kindness.
So, let me tell you about my friend.
I knew him almost 40 years and consider him the best, fairest, most knowledgeable government reporter I have even seen, watched or worked with.
I never saw him lose his temper. I never heard him raise his voice, but he always got his answers. He was not only respected by those he covered over four decades, but revered.
In a competitive profession of petty egos, Dick was generous and unselfish.
Any reporter covering the Legislature or the governor could ask his help and he would not hesitate to give it.
He could provide perspective, offering not only the history of legislative efforts, but the political relationships under way behind the scenes.
Hot-shots would come and go, but Dick was always there in whatever Capitol press room the lawmakers decided to stick us. We called him “the dean” of the Capitol press corps, and he was the unquestioned leader, and here’s one of my favorite examples why.
One night when most of us had filed stories and were getting ready to leave, we found ourselves suddenly bottled up in the press office by an older political reporter who blocked the door while launching into a diatribe against some legislative slight.
He wouldn’t shut up.
He also wouldn’t move from the doorway, and it was one of those awkward situations where no one could politely think of a way to either make our senior colleague quit talking or get out of the way. We were all looking at each other like trapped rats, except for Dick.
As the old reporter continued to filibuster, Dick quietly picked up his desk phone and dialed our antagonist’s phone extension in an adjoining room.
Our speaker suddenly realized he was getting a call and rushed back to his desk, reaching his ringing phone just as Dick quietly hung up his own.
The distraction not only allowed our escape, but earned our admiration.
I know there are no legislatures in heaven, but that’s OK.
Dick Pettys has earned both his rest and his reward, a gentleman to the end.