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Richard PETTYS

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PETTYS, Richard (Cont'd. From Previous Column) "Dick hated getting beat on a state government story, and it rarely happened," Isakson aide Joan Kirchner recalled in an e-mail. Kirchner worked with Pettys at AP for nine years. "If the [Atlanta Journal-Constitution] reporters ever closed their door during the day, Dick would go into overdrive, because that was a sign that one of them had a good scoop. . . . Anyone who came out of the AJC office would get grilled by Dick in the hallway. 'What are you working on?' he would ask. On the other hand, Dick loved the days when he got to close his door because he had the scoop." And now, stop the presses. Literally. At a time when most reporters would term-limit themselves into retirement, Pettys is instead giving less traditional journalism an enthusiastic go. There are fewer firm deadlines and datelines on the Web, and his readership is smaller, more select (an annual subscription costs $220) and presumably chock-full of know-it-alls. "It is a very niche area," said Matt Towery, a former Republican state legislator who is chairman and CEO of the newsletter's parent company, Insider Advantage. "We're writing it primarily for however many thousands of people play in this arena every day." Pettys took the job because he loves covering government and politics and because he thought he might have more free time to try writing fiction. Yet there he was last Monday, covering two committee meetings and updating stories throughout the day. He's no blogger, Pettys stressed, but his notes on the previous evening's Wild Hog Supper began appearing online while the traditional kickoff event was still under way at the Georgia Railroad Depot. It takes a lot of 14-hour days and weekend work to keep the insatiable Internet monster happy, Pettys conceded last week. But, he said, he's never felt less stressed. "I really like my editor," he said drolly, referring to himself. A collector of mostly World War II-era pistols (and an occasional rescuer of abandoned cats), he's never been challenged to a duel at the Capitol. But he's seen plenty of verbal combat. In the early 1970s, Maddox, then lieutenant governor, was feuding with Gov. Jimmy Carter. When Pettys had the temerity to ask a few questions, "Lester exploded, called me a 'long-haired devil' and threatened to get me fired," Pettys recalled in an e-mail. "Lester and I never really had any problems after that, and I will admit that while almost everyone was wearing their hair longer in those days, I probably overdid it somewhat." Maddox was the first of seven Georgia governors whom Pettys covered for the AP. Of them all, Miller seems to have made the most vivid impression on him. It was Miller who brought the virtually unknown James Carville to Georgia during his run for governor in 1990, and Miller whose bareknuckled re-election campaign against Republican Guy Millner in 1994 was Pettys' favorite race to cover. "He's a master of politics," Pettys said. "He brought the modern age of politics to Georgia." And it seems like the two helped raise each other's game. Once, when Miller was governor, someone wrote a news story saying he had prostate cancer. Pettys checked with Miller's press secretary --"absolutely not true" was the response -- then forgot about it until he saw the governor's car pull in one morning while he was walking to the Legislative Office Building. Miller, recalling the story, said he knew that Pettys had been asking around about his health and knew that Pettys often lingered near where he parked his car in the mornings so that he could catch him for a question. So he planned a little surprise. "Miller hops out and yells, 'Come over here, I've got something for you,'" said Pettys, who found himself face to face with a rubber glove. "'I've told you I'm in good health. If you don't believe me, you can check for yourself.'" Pause. "It was a long time before I inquired about his health again." With material like that, why waste time writing fiction? BYLINE: JILL VEJNOSKA DATE: January 15, 2006 A fixture of Georgia Politics, Dick Pettys became affectionately known as The Dean. In 2005, after 36 years, Dick retired, for the first time, from the Associated Press. The Georgia Senate honored him in an unprecedented manner when the chamber allowed him to speak from the rostrum. He received two standing ovations. Afterwards, his colleagues jokingly called him the Senator from the 57th. This was a play on how Senators from the 56 districts of Georgia address one another on the floor. Another of the celebrations of his first retirement was held at Manuel's Tavern in Atlanta, hosted by Associated Press colleagues, and was a who's who in Georgia Politics: Zell Miller, Roy Barnes, Johnny Isakson and many others were in attendance. Zell Miller told Dick's second son, Beaux, "your father never gave me whipping that I didn't deserve," to which Beaux replied, "Yeah, me too." His brothers, Richard and Chip, agree to those sentiments as well. (Cont'd. On Next Column)
Published in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Oct. 12, 2012
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