Sylvia Cooper

City Ink columnist and correspondent for The Augusta Chronicle.

Masters puts local politics on back burner

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Local politics got shoved to the back burner when the Masters Tournament came to town. Hot topics like the Richmond County sheriff’s race even cooled after Augusta attorney Freddie Sanders made it official he’ll run as a Republican.

Other than noting what a kettle of fish it is that Sheriff Ronnie Strength’s best friend, Sanders; his brother-in-law Lt. Robbie Silas; and Strength’s choice of a successor, Capt. Scott Peebles, are in the race, that’s about it.

So I thought seriously about not writing City Ink this week, but then it occurred to me I could do it because I’ve been making silk purses out of sow’s ears for so long, I can do it blindfolded.

Of course, some purses turn out better than others. That I do not deny. Anyway, I’m sure I’ve written 10,000 news stories, features and area briefs during my journalistic career, beginning at the Valdosta Daily Times, where it was my distinct honor to cover the Lowndes County Commission, sheriff’s department and courts, as well as the Hahira City Council.

TIGERS, BEARS, BODIES AND HOME DELIVERY: I wrote about a 300-pound black bear that had the misfortune of wandering onto Interstate 75 and a Bengal tiger that escaped from a traveling circus.

I interviewed Jerry Falwell, as well as a hitchhiker who saw a body in the trunk of the car when the driver opened it. I asked him what he thought when he saw legs sticking out, and he said, “Looney Tunes.”

I once wrote a story about a locksmith who locked himself out of his shop and another about a mother who delivered her daughter’s baby following the directions of a 911 operator. I got so excited hearing the mother tell about it, I got the names mixed up and had the daughter delivering her mother’s baby.

I covered some big stories too, such as the Keller Wilcox case. Wilcox was convicted of the murder of Helen Hanks, the pretty young mother of three who’d worked for his father’s advertising agency until she disappeared in 1972.

Her remains were discovered eight years later by a farmer plowing a field in south Lowndes County. The plow caught on the wooden box she’d been buried in and unearthed it.

At the trial, an old man who worked for the Wilcoxes testified he’d helped bury the box one rainy night. He said they put her in a box and then put her legs in.

WHAT A DUMP!: I also investigated illegal dumping at the Lowndes County landfill, which led to a massive state-ordered cleanup and years of environmental monitoring. It all began with a phone call from a Mr. Horne who lived near a chemical company in Madison, Fla. Mr. Horne said he’d been watching company workers load barrels of hazardous waste on tractor-trailers and drive away.

The Madison landfill had been closed because it had been contaminated by the same chemical company, so Mr. Horne knew they couldn’t be taking the barrels there. So he followed the trucks across the state line into Georgia and to the Lowndes County landfill.

Unfortunately, Mr. Horne was almost deaf, so communicating with him wasn’t easy.

“When did you follow the trucks to Lowndes County?”

“Say what?”

“What day did you follow the trucks to Lowndes County?”

“What day is it? It’s Tuesday?”

“No, no, I said what day did you follow the trucks to the Lowndes County landfill?”

And so it went until I got my hands on the landfill records, which showed the company had dumped thousands of tons of waste there.

THE GRASS IS NOT ALWAYS GREENER, ESPECIALLY IF YOU CAN’T SEE IT: When I first came to work at The Augusta Chronicle, the editor sent me out to Augusta National to do a story on tournament parking. The next year, it was on the weather and the azaleas.

Once, I had to write a story about the huge wisteria vine, said to be the oldest in Augusta or the world or something like that. The hardest one I had to do, though, was a story on the grass at the golf course, which was especially challenging because the National’s spokesman, like the Cabots, spoke only to God.

So when Jane Howington invited me to go to the tournament with her on Thursday, I had mixed emotions. I was honored she’d asked but afraid somebody from the newspaper would see me and ask me to write about the grass again.

TEEING OFF AT 10: Jane told me to be at her house at 9:30 a.m. so we could drive to the Augusta Country Club and catch a 10 a.m. shuttle to the course. As we pulled out of her driveway, she called my attention to an old man on the sidewalk. She said he goes to the grocery store once a week and that she’d offered him a ride, which he refused. Since he was just standing there not moving, I said, “It must take him forever to get there,” to which Jane said, “He’s waiting for the bus. Didn’t you see the bus stop? To be a Phi Beta Kappa, you sure aren’t very smart.”

“I never said I was smart,” I replied. “I just try harder.”

She didn’t look so smart herself later at the tournament. She was peering through her binoculars trying to read the scoreboard until a man behind us told her she was looking through the wrong end.

“I wondered why everything looked so tiny,” she said with a laugh.

We’d set our chairs up by the 16th green, two or three rows back, but we couldn’t see much because of a big pine tree, so we commandeered some empty chairs closer to the action. I was disappointed the azaleas weren’t blooming, but Jane said only the locals noticed that.

“The Yankees don’t know the difference,” she said.

Jane struck up conversations with everybody. We left our almost-ringside seats to walk around and get something to eat, which, by the way, was very good, especially the barbecue sandwiches. When we came back, our good seats had been taken, so we were back behind the big pine.

Around 3 p.m., the crowd started growing. They’d come to see Tiger Woods play. Yvette and Sen. Hardie Davis were there from the Red Carpet Tour with an executive from Honeywell. After Woods played, we left to catch the shuttle bus. And this is the last story I’ll ever write about the tournament.

FOLLOWING THE RED JEEP: People are always asking me how my husband, Ernie, is doing. I say, “Fine. He’s in rehab.”

If he overhears me, he’ll yell out, “Cardiac rehab!” And I’ll say, “Oh, yes, cardiac rehab.”

The other day, we were exiting the Target shopping center, and I told him to turn right and go to the traffic light so he could do a U-turn and head back the other way. He was uncertain of exactly what he was supposed to do, so I said, “Just follow that red Jeep.”

The Jeep had stopped at the traffic light waiting for the light to change to green. When it did, the driver did not make a U-turn but drove into the shopping area toward Buy Buy Baby, and Ernie followed him.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m following that red Jeep. You told me to follow that red Jeep, so I’m following that red Jeep.”

So now every time there’s a miscue, he says, “I’m following that red Jeep.”

Comments (2) Add comment
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allhans
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allhans 04/08/12 - 12:12 am
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Now that IS good stuff!

Now that IS good stuff!

Riverman1
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Riverman1 04/08/12 - 06:48 am
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Very nice. Often your best

Very nice. Often your best writing comes from the non-news.

"And this is the last story I’ll ever write about the tournament."
Haha.

But about the 10,000 news stories you've written during your career, I think I equaled that many with comments, articles, emails or at least instant messages, ha, in the first 6 months of the internet. Not of the same quality, no doubt.

wondersnevercease
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wondersnevercease 04/09/12 - 06:27 am
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Great column!
Unpublished

Great column!

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