The death June 22 of Ester "Eppie" Pauline Friedman Lederer, better known to millions of her readers as Ann Landers, brought to mind some warm memories of her visit to Augusta.
She came to town on April 9, 1975, to speak at St. Mary's Catholic Church for an adult education series, Liberty in Marriage.
She was three months shy of her 57th birthday and her column was in more than 730 newspapers, including The Augusta Chronicle. More than 400 people turned out for her insightful remarks at St. Mary's.
I was a reporter for the afternoon Augusta Herald (which carried the Dear Abby column of her twin, Pauline) and went to cover her talk. We met before her speech and hit it off, partly because of our mutual friendship with the late Ralph McGill, publisher of The Atlanta Constitution.
Her remarks that evening, much like her column, were balanced with humor and seriousness.
"It's true many people want to know about affairs of the heart," she said in her talk, "but they also want to know about other things like mooching relatives, lecherous bosses, snoring husbands, vasectomies, whether to change churches, run for office, have their breasts enlarged or have their bunions removed."
Since the program theme was marriage, she referred to her own 36-year marriage to Budget Rent-A-Car founder Jules Lederer, saying, "The woman who knows how to make her husband feel like he is her hero has it made. "The man who makes his wife feels like a queen also has it made."
Ironically, less than two months after her remarks in Augusta, her own marriage ended.
Rather than abandon Ann Landers as an advice columnist whose own advice failed, readers responded overwhelmingly with sympathy and encouragement. And it made her post-divorce advice even more realistic and believable since she also had been down that road.
At the press conference before her talk, I had given her a rough version of a possible book I had been working on about Mr. McGill and asked if she would give me her opinion of it. She said that she would write me.
True to her word, just six days after leaving Augusta, she sent me a letter from her Chicago office in which she wrote, "Yes, I did read the McGill story and loved it. It kept me up awfully late, but it was worth it!"
And she said of the Herald running my lengthy article about her appearance, "To make Page One with a two-column picture yet in a paper that doesn't run my column is certainly more than I expected.
"Your reporting is excellent - as I knew it would be - and I was very pleased with the way you handled the assignment."
Nothing came of the McGill book - falling by the wayside as other writing projects took up my time - but it still was a great feeling that the woman whose columns I had been reading for years had liked something that I had written.
That was Eppie Friedman Lederer in a nutshell: She spent a lifetime making her readers feel better about themselves and encouraged them to do the same with the people they cared about in their lives.
Don Rhodes can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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