Posts Tagged ‘College’

ABC Package is a large and well-stocked liquor store in Athens, Georgia. From its convenient location on Atlanta Highway, it has served the alcohol needs of the University of Georgia student body for 25 years.


ABC Package opened in the early 1990s, coinciding with the years my sons Britt and Dustin were students at UGA.

Both boys, it turned out, conducted business with surprising regularity at ABC Package. I learned this when I would balance their bank accounts (this being the old days, before debit cards and such, when writing checks was still a thing), and I would see checks payable to ABC Package.

Oddly enough, they both had the same explanation for this — five years apart, mind you — which they expressed to me with sober, stone-faced sincerity.

The conversations went something like this…


Rocky: Britt, I balanced your checkbook yesterday and made a deposit. I see you wrote four checks to ABC Package. Seriously?

Britt: Oh, that. Well, the thing is, ABC Package is the only place in Athens that will take a check for cash. I go there to get spending money.

Rocky: You don’t go there for beer or liquor or anything.

Britt: Nope.

Rocky: I see.


Rocky: Hey, Dustin, tell me about these checks to ABC Package. Did you think I wouldn’t notice?

Dustin: Dad, it isn’t what you think. ABC Package is the only place in town that will take a check for cash. That’s why I write checks there.

Rocky: So… you write checks to a liquor store, but not for alcohol.

Dustin: Correct.

Rocky: I see.


All of which reminds me of the classic question, “You expect me to believe that? What do you take me for?”

The correct response being, “Everything I can get.”



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One of my favorite hiking spots these days is the State Botanical Garden of Georgia in Athens. The SBG, a 300-acre preserve, is pleasant, clean, safe, and close to home. About five miles of well-maintained hiking trails wind through it. It’s a terrific place.

The SBG was created in 1986 by the University of Georgia as a “living laboratory for the study and enjoyment of  plants and nature.” It includes a large tropical conservatory and a variety of formal gardens.


The gardens — native flora, annuals and perennials, azaleas, rhododendrons, groundcover, shade plants, etc. — change with the seasons. They and the conservatory are well worth a visit.



As for the trails, they’re especially notable because a few years ago, a geology professor and her students uploaded the complete trail system to Google Maps. Thus, the trails appear on your phone as if they were streets, and your location is shown as you progress. Very neat, very handy.

The trails are remote and quiet, but the central part of SBG is plenty active. The formal gardens require constant attention and maintenance. At the same time, various departments of UGA are conducting research and teaching field classes.

Between the maintenance, teaching, research, classes for the public, events for kids, etc., it’s a busy place. People are everywhere, focused on some task or other.

One morning not long ago, I drove over to SBG, parked at a convenient spot, grabbed my water bottle, and set out to walk the outer loop of trails. The day was sunny, the temp mid-70s. Perfect.

Not far from the conservatory, I arrived at the edge of a large field. According to a sign, the field is being restored to open prairie for the benefit of certain plants and wildlife.

As I stood there reading the sign, movement about 20 yards to the left caught my attention. I turned and saw a small brown bird entangled in a net, periodically struggling to escape.

The net resembled a badminton or volleyball net, but had a very fine mesh. It had been erected a few feet in front of a low patch of wild foliage and was almost invisible from a distance. Its purpose, I didn’t know.

I wasn’t sure what to do. I have no idea how to extricate a trapped bird, but I couldn’t just ignore it. Maybe I could go back to the main office and get help. I walked closer to get a better look.

As I approached the flailing bird, a female voice rang out in the distance. “Sir! Get away! Leave the bird alone!”

I looked up with a start. Striding across the field toward me was a small, youngish woman in all khaki. She was waving insistently and continued to shout instructions.

“Sir, do not touch the bird! Stay away!”

Puzzled, I stood there quietly and waited. When she reached me, I got in the first words: “What are you yelling about? What’s going on?”

“I am an ornithologist,” she said in a grave and decidedly snooty tone. “I am authorized by the State of Georgia, the University, and the Botanical Garden to handle birds.”

“Yeah, but what –”

“I am a member of (she reeled off a few names that may have been professional organizations). I am pursuing my doctorate.”

She reached over and began to examine the bird, cupping it in her hand through the net.

“Okay,” I said, “You’re an ornithologist. Good for you. Why are you fussing me out? What is this all about?”

“You don’t have the skills to handle this bird,” she snapped. “I have the training. I understand how the bones and joints function.”

“Lady, I’m just a hiker. I saw a bird stuck in a net. I walked over for a closer look. Why are you down my throat?”

“I can remove the netting without harming the bird. You can’t.”

“I didn’t touch the damn bird.”

“You would have.”

“No, I wouldn’t. Now that I’ve had a chance to see it, it’s too tangled in the net. I would’ve gone for help.”

“It’s not very tangled.”

“Lady, I haven’t done a damn thing except show compassion for this poor bird. Your attitude stinks.”

She ignored me and addressed the bird. “Oh, poor little guy,” she cooed. “You’re just a thrasher, not the bird I wanted. I’ll just have to let you go.”

I finally deduced what the drama was all about. “This is your net,” I said as the bird flew away. “It’s here to catch birds.”

“That’s what I said.”

“No, you didn’t. All you did was yell and give me your credentials. How could I possibly know what you’re doing out here?”

“This is a [word indecipherable] net. I am involved in a research project. Do you understand now?”

“Well, put up a sign so people will know! Are you afraid the birds will read it and stay away?”

“Sir, no birds will come around as long as we’re standing here. We need to leave. I hope you have a good hike.” She turned and walked away. Briskly, of course.

I didn’t reply, and what I muttered to myself wasn’t nice.

Even on my way home after the hike, I was still steamed. That evening, I Googled the subject of using nets to trap birds. The nets, I learned, are “mist nets.” This is from Wikipedia:

Mist nets are used by ornithologists and bat biologists to capture wild birds and bats for banding or other research projects. Mist nets are typically made of nylon or polyester mesh suspended between two poles, resembling a volleyball net.

When properly deployed in the correct habitat, the nets are virtually invisible. Mist nets have shelves created by horizontally strung lines that create a loose, baggy pocket. When a bird or bat hits the net, it falls into this pocket, where it becomes tangled. The purchase and use of mist nets requires permits, which vary according to a country or state’s wildlife regulations.

Mist net handling requires skill to optimally place the nets, avoid entangling nets in vegetation, and properly store nets. Bird and bat handling requires extensive training to avoid injury to the captured animals.

Okay, fine. Clear and concise. Now I know what I didn’t know when Miss Charm blindsided me.

Do us all a favor, lady. Put up a sign.




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College memories are a hoot.

The subject of this story is an incident that occurred early in my freshman year of college. I don’t remember it in elaborate detail, but the main characters and pertinent facts are etched into my memory banks.

Let me set the scene…

When I went off to the University of Georgia in the fall of 1960, I didn’t know a single soul on the UGA campus. We Smiths had just returned to Georgia after living in Europe for four years. I had applied for college admission by mail and was accepted by mail. I’d never set foot in Athens.

Campus life was, therefore, a bit unsettling at first. Most new students already had at least a few friends there. They knew people from their hometowns, either fellow freshmen or kids who had gone off to UGA a year or two ahead of them.

Even the foreign exchange students (mostly well-off kids from Southeast Asia whose parents packed them off to the U.S. to keep them out of the Vietnam War) usually came to Athens in groups.

So, the first friends I made in college were the guys on my floor in Reed Hall, the dormitory for male freshmen (all of them, no exceptions).

Of course, my circle of acquaintances soon widened. I met people in my classes, in ROTC, and elsewhere. The initial feeling of being an odd duck didn’t last long.

The incident of which I speak happened with a group of my Reed Hall buddies, undoubtedly on a Friday or Saturday night. I’m sure of that, because we were on a quest for alcohol, and I never did such things on school nights.

In those days, the legal drinking age in Georgia was 21. I was a mere 17 years old then — wouldn’t turn 18 until January 1961. Most of my friends were 18, some 19, so the odds of scoring a beer or two were not good.

However, we lived on hope — hope that an upperclassman might show us pity. Hope that a kindly bartender would look the other way. Hope that someone in the group had managed to get his hands on a coveted fake I.D. card.

On the night in question, our little group walked across campus from Reed Hall to downtown Athens, a distance of about half a mile. Our destination was the legendary Old South Tavern on West Broad Street.

The Old South Tavern is long gone. The place was shuttered and bulldozed decades ago to make way for a row of commercial buildings.

Even in my day, the Old South was ancient and on the decline. Frankly, it was fast becoming a seedy old dump. But it was a genuine Athens institution and wildly popular.

Today, the Old South Tavern lives in the hearts of generations of male students who spent countless evenings there, trod the creaking floors, jostled their way through the boisterous crowds, and waded through the inevitable inch of standing water on the men’s room floor.

That night, we were a party of four, all freshmen: my roommate Paul, his longtime best pal Warren, a third fellow from the dorm whose name I don’t recall, and me.

Ah, Warren. What a memorable character. Warren was shortish and stocky, ebullient and brash. As is the case with some people, he was of indeterminate age.

He simply looked older than his years. And you knew he would look precisely the same at age 29, 39, and 49. If you need a mental picture: the actor Jack Black.

Warren was a small-town rich kid and very popular in Reed Hall. That’s because his father was a moonshiner, a wealthy and successful man who was influential in Middle Georgia politics.

Thus, Warren had access to a modest, but never-ending supply of premium quality, professionally-crafted, illegal corn liquor. It was truly sublime stuff. Everyone wanted to be Warren’s friend.

Warren accepted me because I roomed with his buddy Paul. And that school year, I was privileged to sample Warren’s father’s white lightnin’ many times. It was incredibly pleasant and smooth. Gentle and kind to palate and throat.

Commercial whiskey, served neat, tests the fortitude of a normal person; Warren’s father’s moonshine was as potent as a shot of Jim Beam or Jack Daniel’s, but no more harsh than a sip of apricot nectar.

We learned, of course, not to ask Warren to share his nectar. He took offense at that. Instead, we just waited until he made the offer. When his supply was adequate, he was a generous guy. When his supply was low, we were out of luck.

That night when we assembled to head downtown, Warren did not make the offer. But clearly, he had sampled some of the merchandise before he left his room, and he was feeling no pain.

As we all knew, Warren was a fun guy when inebriated. He was a friendly, happy drunk. But, even though he was joyous and jovial when he got sauced, his inhibitions evaporated in proportion to his alcohol consumption. When Warren got plastered, he became unpredictable.

Unpredictable, as when he decided, one dark night, to totter down the yellow line in the center of Lexington Highway as drivers sped past him in both directions, swerving and cursing and blowing their horns. How he escaped death, only God knows.

The evening was mild and pleasant when we arrived at the Old South. The bar was teeming with activity. And Warren was too tipsy for his own good.

But something that night was different. Milling around on the sidewalk in front of the main entrance was a large scrum of male students. Why, I wondered, is everyone standing outside? Why aren’t they filing into the bar?

Then I saw the two stone-faced bouncers in the doorway, checking IDs.

The four of us stood at the rear of the scrum and communicated with looks. Awww, man! Can you believe this? When did THIS start? No FAIR!

Actually, only three of us had that silent conversation. While we were lamenting the sobering turn of events, Warren had melted into the crowd and was making his way toward the entrance.

Now, you should know one additional detail about the situation. Although both bouncers were appropriately beefy and menacing, one of them was a woman.

Unexpected, yes. I have no explanation for it. I doubt if even the Athens PD had female officers at the time. But there she was.

And at the moment, she was watching with interest as Warren approached her with a raised forefinger and an amiable grin.

By the time we reached the entrance, Warren was standing a few feet from her — looking up at her, actually — chattering and chuckling in as suave a manner as he could muster.

She glared back at him without expression.

A few steps away, the male bouncer glanced at the two of them, concluded that she had things under control, and returned to whatever he was doing.

During those brief seconds, Warren’s banter was largely unintelligible, delivered away from us and in quiet tones. But his next words reached us with crystal clarity.

He leaned forward, placed one hand on the lady’s forearm, and said in the seductive manner of a Hollywood screen Romeo, “You and me, baby… Me and you…”

One second later, Warren’s arm was pinned behind his back, and the lady was hustling him around the corner and out of sight.


I never learned what consequences Warren paid, if any, because of the episode. He always brushed off the matter with a chuckle and declined to elaborate.

Today, he and Paul probably are still out there, running their respective family businesses back home.

And someone, somewhere has photos of the late, great Old South Tavern. I wish I did, but I don’t.

The best I could do: this photo of West Broad Street in the 1960s, looking uphill toward downtown. I highlighted the Old South’s neon sign in red.

Old South-1

The photo below shows the same block of West Broad Street in 2013:

Old South-2

College memories are indeed a hoot.


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On September 22, 1962, in the opening week of the SEC football season, the Alabama Crimson Tide spanked the fannies of the Georgia Bulldogs, 35-0. It was Alabama’s 12th straight win.

The game marked the debut of Alabama’s sophomore quarterback Joe Namath, who threw three touchdown passes. The Tide defense, led by All-American Lee Roy Jordan, held Georgia to a mere 116 yards on offense.

But the game was destined to have even greater consequences. Big trouble was brewing.

In early 1963, the Saturday Evening Post ran a sensational story claiming that, prior to the game, Georgia Athletic Director Wally Butts gave crucial information about Georgia’s plays and formations to Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

The magazine gave as its source an Atlanta insurance agent, George Burnett, who claimed that on September 13,1962, when he placed a routine long distance phone call, his line was accidentally connected to a conversation between Butts and Bryant.

Burnett said he listened, spellbound, and quickly understood that Butts was divulging crucial information that would give the Alabama team a major advantage over Georgia. He said he took notes as the 15-minute conversation unfolded.

Burnett claimed that he only told a few friends about the incident. But after the big Alabama victory, he went to several officials at UGA with his story. Inquiries began.

Abruptly, Burnett then sold his story to the Saturday Evening Post for $5,000. And, according to later reports, the Post rushed the article into print to avoid being scooped by other news outlets.

The result, no surprise, was a firestorm. Both coaches vehemently denied the accusation. Outraged football fans in Georgia and Alabama rose to defend the two coaches. Butts filed a $10 million libel suit. Bryant, who already had a lawsuit in progress against the magazine (for alleging that Bryant was a brutal coach), did the same.

When the Butts libel trial reached court, evidence showed that Butts and Bryant indeed had spoken by telephone at the time Burnett claimed. Southern Bell admitted it was possible for a third party to be connected accidentally to another call.

But three UGA players testified that Alabama did not seem to have any special inside information. And three Alabama players testified that their game preparation was normal.

Namath and Jordan both said they would have known if their team possessed the kind of sensitive information described in the story.

Butts and Bryant, close friends for many years, insisted they simply had shared “coach talk,” and Bryant received no information that would help him in the game.

In his summation, Butts’ high-powered attorney William Schroder, Jr. intoned, “Someday, Wallace Butts will pass on to where neither the Post nor anyone else can then bother him. Unless I miss my guess, they will put him in a red coffin with a black lid with a football in his hands, and his epitaph will read, ‘Glory, glory to old Georgia.'”

Mrs. Butts and her three daughters, sitting in the front row, sobbed.

The jury ruled that the magazine indeed had rushed to judgment and was liable. The publisher was ordered to pay Butts $3.06 million in damages — the largest amount ever awarded in a libel suit.

When the verdict was read, Butts wept. Attorney Schroder leaned over and said, “Let it come, Wally. Let it come, boy.”

“I couldn’t help it,” Butts said later. “It was six months rolling out of me.”

“It’s not the money. It’s the vindication,” he said.

Later, the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court previously had ruled that news organizations are protected from liability when they make allegations about public officials. But in Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, the Court said news outlets can be held liable if they print information about public figures that is “recklessly gathered and unchecked.”

Eventually, the $3.06 million awarded to Butts was reduced on appeal to $460,000. Bryant settled out of court for $300,000. The Saturday Evening Post, already in financial trouble, closed its doors in 1969.

In 1963, the Georgia Bulldogs had a 4-5-1 season, which sealed the fate of Johnny Griffith. He was fired and replaced by Vince Dooley.

That same year, his reputation further battered by the Post story, Wally Butts stepped down as Athletic Director. He moved to Atlanta and opened the Wallace Butts Insurance Agency. The business soon became successful, and he moved it back to Athens, where he was still a beloved figure.

Butts died of a heart attack in Athens in 1973, age 68.


When I arrived at UGA as a freshman in 1960, Wally Butts was the head coach. In my sophomore and junior years, Johnny Griffith had the job. When I was a senior, Vince Dooley began his reign.

The irony doesn’t escape me that the Bulldogs were SEC champs the year before I arrived, and they resumed their winning ways the year after I graduated.

As the 1960 football season unfolded, the Bulldogs having just lost consecutive games to Florida and Auburn, rumors circulated on campus that Coach Butts was surely doomed, on his way out.

I didn’t know, of course, that a group of prominent Georgia alumni already had met with Butts and invited him to resign. (Please, Wally, don’t force us to go public with details about your girlfriend and all that.)

All I knew was that the very idea of firing the legendary Wally Butts was unfair and underhanded. After all, the man was a Georgia institution.

But I was a tender, innocent freshman, just back in the U.S. after living for three years in Europe. I was just getting used to campus life, just learning my way around Athens. What did I know?

So, one sunny Saturday afternoon in December, as Fall Quarter was winding down, when my friend Al came to my dorm room and asked me to go with him to a “Save Wally” demonstration at the Arch on North Campus, naturally I said yes.

The demonstration wasn’t much. About 50-75 students showed up. We milled around for 30 minutes or so, chanting things like “Wah-LEE! Wah-LEE!” and “Save Our Butts! Save Our Butts!”

The group declined, however, to chant one of the most obvious slogans before their eyes, which Al and I had hand-lettered with black Magic Marker on white t-shirts and proudly wore to the event: I LIKE BUTTS

What can I say. I was young and stupid.

The University officially replaced Butts with Griffith the first week of January 1961, as Winter Quarter was starting. It’s worthy of note that on the same day, a federal judge ordered UGA to quit stalling and admit its first black students.

That, of course, led to other demonstrations — bone-headed, embarrassing, dangerous demonstrations — from which I stayed as far away as possible.

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Room with a view… I took this photo of Sanford Stadium from the window of my dorm room in November 1960.

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Wally during the glory years.

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The iconic Arch between the UGA campus and downtown Athens originally was a gate to keep out livestock. It has became a traditional spot for demonstrations, such as this “Occupy Athens” rally in 2011.


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My alma mater, the University of Georgia, dumped its head football coach after last season and hired a new one.

Gone is Mark Richt, who held the job for 15 years. Richt had a respectable record of 145 wins, 51 losses. He was replaced by Kirby Smart, an Alabama assistant coach.

Why did Richt get the boot? Because for all his winning, he delivered the coveted SEC championship only twice, way back in 2002 and 2005. That fact was stuck in the craw of too many influential UGA alumni, so Richt was invited out the door.

The same thing happened to the previous Georgia coach, Vince Dooley. Dooley coached at UGA for 24 years, from 1964 until 1988. He, too, had a strong record (201-77-10), but a mere five SEC titles. He was replaced as head coach and put out to pasture as Athletic Director.

Dooley and Richt are still highly regarded in these parts, because they are honorable men, models of civility and decorum, respected as coaches, leaders, and role models. Unfortunately for them, the UGA power elite wanted meat-eaters.

Inevitably, this latest Athens coaching kerfuffle leads my thoughts back to when I attended UGA in the 1960s.

During my four years there, Georgia had three different head coaches. And the terms “decorum” and “role model” do not come to mind.

Therein, my friends, lies a marvelous tale.


James Wallace “Wally” Butts, Jr., often called “the little round man,” was an unlikely college athlete. He was 5′ 6″ and 155 pounds. But he attended Mercer University on scholarships in football, basketball, and baseball and was team captain in all three sports.

After a decade of coaching football at prep schools around the South, Butts came to the University of Georgia in 1938 as an assistant coach. In 1939, when the UGA head coach departed (following a 5-4-1 season), Butts was picked for the job.

At practice sessions and on game days, Butts was a feisty, fiery-tempered presence. He paced the sidelines, strutting and fuming and barking orders.

In an era when power runners fueled the offense in most of college football, Butts was a proponent of the passing game. Success came to the Bulldogs almost immediately.

UGA quickly won three SEC titles (1942, 1946, 1948) and two national championships (1942 and 1946). Butts recruited the two Georgia football legends who helped deliver the national titles: Heisman Trophy winner Frank Sinkwich in 1942 and Charley Trippi in 1946.

But success in sports is a transitory thing. By the 1950s, the Bulldogs had become mediocre, languishing in the SEC cellar. The team suffered through five losing seasons.

Butts rebounded briefly in 1959 under ace quarterback Fran Tarkington, and UGA again won the SEC title. But in 1960, with Tarkington gone, the Bulldogs went 6-4.

The powers-that-be stepped in. Butts was replaced as head coach, but allowed to stay on as Athletic Director. His record over 21 years was 140-86-9.

The performance of the football team, however, was not the only factor in his firing.

Butts was married with three children and was, of course, an Athens institution. The telephones in his house were red and black. His home phone number was listed in the telephone book. He owned The Huddle, a popular downtown diner.

But his personal life had become increasingly, and sometimes openly, scandalous. The allegations were eyebrow-raising.

According to reports, Butts frequented bars, drank excessively, and had a young girlfriend in Atlanta with whom he went nightclubbing.

Sometimes, she traveled with him to out-of-state football games; he charged her expenses, including airline tickets, to the University.

The school also said it found over 300 long distance phone calls between Butts and his lady friend that were charged to UGA.

There’s more. Allegedly, Butts was pals with a Chicago beer distributor known for gambling on college football games. At various times, the man helped Butts with business investments, and he once arranged for the coach to get a sizable loan.

Meanwhile, the IRS was after Butts for $36,000 in unpaid income taxes.

Slowly, the stories became public knowledge around Athens and Atlanta. Team morale and recruiting almost certainly were affected. As Butts’ reputation declined, so did the team’s performance.

Butts accepted the Athletic Director position, but he resented being pushed out as head coach. It didn’t help that Georgia’s new head coach, Johnny Griffith, took the Bulldogs to a record of 3-7 in 1961 and 3-4-3 in 1962. Butts began to criticize Griffith’s coaching abilities publicly and often.

Then, the saga took a turn for the surreal. Sensational accusations were made of high-level cheating and collusion. A monumental legal fight ensued.

More about which in my next post.

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Wally Butts during practice at Sanford Stadium.

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Coach Butts on game day.

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Posing in 1959 with Tarkington (10) and other star players.

griffith, johnny.jpg (ntphoto/sports/uga football/2003)

Johnny Griffith

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Vince Dooley

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Mark Richt

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Kirby Smart


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Sometimes, a person needs to vent. And when you have a blog, you might as well use it.

It’s been nearly 50 years, and this one still sticks in my craw…

When I was in college in the 1960s, I was enrolled in the ROTC program, which was, and probably still is, the least painful way to become a military officer.

Back then, as you may know, guys my age were being handed a rifle and sent to get killed in Vietnam. I wanted no part of that, so I opted for Air Force officer training. Not the Army, and not the Marines, thank you very much.

I took a series of Air Science classes during college (in addition to the regular curriculum), and in a ceremony the morning of graduation, I was sworn into the Air Force as a second lieutenant.

Two months later, I was called up to active duty. I served from 1964 until 1968 and was, in succession, a deputy squadron commander, a full-blown squadron commander, a P.R. officer, and a squadron commander again.

I did a damn good job. As a young and unlikely boss, I tried to be as fair, impartial, and  non-dictatorial as possible. In general, the men seemed to like me, even respect me. Especially compared to other COs on the base, some of whom let power go to their heads.

Just so you’ll know, I was, at age 21, the youngest unit commander in the whole blooming Air Force, with 500 men reporting to me.

Although I knew right away that soldiering wasn’t for me, and one four-year term would be enough, I enjoyed the experience and was proud of my service.

However, in 1968, when I left the Air Force and returned to Atlanta and civilian life, armed with what any rational person ought to consider valuable experience in managing people and organizations…

… nobody cared.


To my dismay, the companies where I had job interviews considered my military service to be not just meaningless, but an actual detriment; to them, I was a college graduate with zero experience, AND I was four years older than the other greenhorns.

Had I served as a fighter pilot, or a tank commander, or a Green Beret — had I come home highly decorated or wounded or both — maybe my service would have meant something to them. Maybe.

The Air Force, however, had made me a desk jockey and assigned me to a training base in New Mexico. No medals or glory for me.

But the Air Force, God bless it, gave me enough responsibility to last a lifetime.

My job as a unit commander was to ride herd on the hundreds of airmen and non-coms in my charge; to see that they were housed and fed and trained; to praise, reward, and promote them when they earned it; and to mete out the appropriate discipline when they got into bar fights, ran up too many debts, went AWOL, or got drunk and decked their wives at the NCO Club on a Saturday night.

My First Sergeant and I, sometimes together and sometimes singly, stayed busy tending to an eclectic and unpredictable bunch of boys and men.

We pinned on their new stripes, got them out of jail, bragged on their babies, intervened with their creditors, met their wives and girlfriends, and went to their homes to try to patch things up after a spat.

When most of them were called on the carpet, the seriousness of the situation got their attention. They responded to straight talk and reasoning and thereafter stayed out of trouble.

With others, it took cajoling and more stern measures. Maybe placing a Letter of Reprimand in their files. Maybe with the understanding that if they behaved, the letter would get tossed.

More often than not, the infractions were minor, and things worked out. But not always. Some matters were either unsolvable or just too serious, and they had to be referred to the Base Legal Office.

Nobody wanted that to happen — to see a man going on trial, possibly demoted, discharged from the military, or locked up. During that four years, I was involved in 50 or more courts-martial and Article 15 (non-judicial punishment) procedures.

But when I became a civilian again, no, I couldn’t handle the entry-level copywriter spots at the ad agencies.

I wasn’t right for those marketing trainee jobs with Delta and Coca-Cola and Lockheed.

I was a bad fit for the beginner jobs with state government, the newspapers, the Chamber of Commerce, and all the rest.

At the time, I was married with a kid, and I had to find gainful employment. Finally, I took a job as a collection agent for an Atlanta insurance company.

Every day, I sat at my desk and, speaking into a Dictaphone, composed letters to poor saps who didn’t have the money to pay their policy premiums. They were in arrears and thus were in the company crosshairs for cancellation.

In the letters, I informed them that if this office did not receive the past due amount of (insert amount here) no later than (insert date here), we would have no choice but to (insert drastic action here).

Every afternoon, someone from the typing pool picked up my magnetic tape containing the day’s dictation. The next morning, a pile of typed letters appeared in my inbox. I signed them, placed them in the outbox, and commenced another round of dictation.

After a few months with the insurance company, I stumbled onto a curious classified ad in the newspaper seeking a “wordsmith” for an unspecified position in state government.

I applied, and it turned out to be the Governor’s Office, looking for a speechwriter. I got the job. I’ve been in the writing business ever since.

Nothing says life has to be fair. But after all this time, I still deeply resent having my Air Force experience dismissed and disrespected. The succession of people who turned me away back then — they blew it.

I wish I could magically sit them down, one by one, grab them by the lapels, and make them understand what clueless idiots they were.

But I guess I’ll have to settle for airing it out in a blog post.

That's me in 1966 -- 1st Lt. W. A. Smith, Commander, Headquarters Squadron, 832nd Combat Support Group, Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.

That’s me in 1966 — 1st Lt. W. A. Smith, Commander, Headquarters Squadron, 832nd Combat Support Group, Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.

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On July 20, 2009, this article appeared in The Times, the daily newspaper of Gainesville, Georgia.


Visitor Arrested for Eating Chicken With Fork

Ginny Dietrick fought the law Monday. But this time, she won.

The Louisiana resident was celebrating her 91st birthday by enjoying a lunch of Longstreet Cafe’s finest fried chicken Monday when Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper told Dietrick to put down her fork and listen up — she was under arrest.

Hooper informed Dietrick that it’s against a city ordinance to eat fried chicken, “a culinary delicacy sacred to this municipality, this county, this state, the Southland and this republic,” with anything other than your fingers. The 1961 ordinance was put on city books as a sort of public relations stunt to promote Gainesville as the poultry capital of the world, Hooper said.

Dietrick had Gainesville resident and friend A.C. Marshall to thank for the practical joke. Dietrick can also thank Marshall for setting up her pardon.

Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras was on hand at Longstreet Cafe to dismiss the charges of improper poultry consumption against Dietrick.

And Abit Massey, president-emeritus of the Georgia Poultry Federation, ordained Dietrick an Honorary Georgia Poultry Princess.


It’s true. Eating fried chicken with a utensil is against the law in Gainesville, which is 20 miles from where I live, and which calls itself the “Poultry Capital of the World” and “Queen City of the Mountains.”

Technically, Gainesville isn’t in the mountains. It’s in the foothills, although on a clear day, you can see the Blue Ridge Mountains on the horizon. The “Queen City” thing, therefore, is a bit of a stretch.

The “Poultry Capital” claim, on the other hand, isn’t.

Gainesville is an interesting and in some ways curious place. It is most notable for:

1) the looming presence of Lake Lanier, which was created in its backyard when the Chattahoochee River was dammed in the 1950s, and

2) a robust, billion-dollar poultry processing industry.

Lake Lanier surrounds Gainesville on three sides. Countless coves and inlets intrude deep into the rolling hills. As a result, Gainesville (population 35,000) and Hall County (190,000) are home to some eye-poppingly spectacular and expensive lakefront residential neighborhoods.

As for the poultry industry, it has dominated the local economy for the last 75 years.

Gainesville was founded 200 years ago as Mule Camp Springs, at a spot not far from the Chattahoochee River where two old Indian trails crossed. Before long, the town was renamed Gainesville in honor of General Edmund P. Gaines, a hero of the War of 1812.

Frankly, I like the choice. In those days, President Andrew Jackson was engaged in forcibly removing the native tribes from the Southeast (as many individuals as they could catch, at any rate) and shipping them to the Oklahoma Territory, thus freeing up their land for European settlers.

General Gaines was a veteran of several Indian wars, but to his credit, he publicly opposed the removal policy on moral grounds. His opposition did nothing to stop the removal, of course, and it ended his military career.

Maybe Gaines would be a good choice to replace the villainous Jackson on the $20 bill.

Edmund P. Gaines

Edmund P. Gaines

But I digress.

The poultry industry rose in Gainesville thanks to Jesse Dickson Jewell (1902-1975), a savvy businessman who perfected the process of raising, slaughtering, and marketing the birds.

Jesse Jewell

Jesse Jewell

From the 1930s to the 1960s, Jewell made the chicken-processing industry efficient and profitable. During the post-World War II boom, J. D. Jewell, Inc. became a leading regional employer.

The Jewell processing plant also was among the first local factories to hire black workers.

The Rooster Statue

After Jewell died, the city fathers and business leaders determined to honor both Jewell and the chicken, the source of so much of Gainesville’s fame and prosperity.

The primary north-south avenue through downtown Gainesville was renamed Jesse Jewell Parkway.

Then in 1977, Gainesville opened Georgia Poultry Park, fittingly located on Jesse Jewell Parkway, not far from the center of town.

The centerpiece of the quiet little park is a 25-foot marble obelisk topped by a handsome three-foot-tall bronze rooster.

Poultry Park-1

Poultry Park-2

Jesse Jewell would be proud.

The Rabbit Statue

Although most Gainesvillians are proud of their poultry-related heritage, resentment simmered in the northeast corner of the city, in a tiny neighborhood where chickens were less revered.

Around 1900, well before poultry’s rise to prominence in Gainesville, local farmer David Highsmith began raising and selling rabbits to the citizenry. Most people were poor, and rabbits were a cheap and plentiful food item. Highsmith’s business prospered, and soon, he dubbed his little community Rabbittown.

Highsmith remained in the rabbit business through the 1920s. When he died, the business died with him. Rabbittown was absorbed into Gainesville and largely was forgotten…

… except in the hearts of Rabbittown’s residents. In 1993, a few local businessmen, probably irritated by the presence of the bronze rooster in Poultry Park, erected their own monument: a 20-foot-tall rabbit, perched on its haunches, one paw raised in greeting to passersby.

Rabbit statue-1

Whereas the rooster statue is a dramatized, but realistic depiction, the rabbit statue is… more like a gray version of a chocolate Easter bunny.

The statue is made of Styrofoam, covered with a layer of fiberglass mesh and coated with synthetic stucco for preservation. It stands in the parking lot of the Rabbittown Cafe, a local favorite for home cookin’.

David Highsmith would be proud.

The Tiger Statue

Tiger? Yes, Gainesville also has a tiger statue, said to be the largest in the world.

The bronze tiger, installed in 2013 on the campus of Brenau University, is 7′ 6″ tall and 14′ long. It rests on a granite base and weighs 2,200 pounds.

Tiger statue

If you sense an interesting story here, your instinct is correct.

Brenau is a prestigious private university founded in Gainesville in 1878. Today, in addition to the Gainesville campus, Brenau has six other locations around Georgia and one Jacksonville. Enrollment is about 3,500 students.

The statue represents Brenau’s Golden Tiger mascot. It was a gift from Irwin “Ike” Belk, former head of the Belk Department Store chain. Apparently, Ike’s hobby after retirement was to donate “world’s largest” statues to colleges and universities.

Over the years, he placed 40 such statues at various institutions, including a giant flying falcon at the Air Force Academy.

Brenau students voted to name the bronze tiger “Lucille” after the wife of a former university president.

I close with one last interesting fact, a connection between Brenau and the Jewell family.

Jesse Jewell’s mother, Mary Dickson, worked as an art teacher at Brenau (which was a women’s college until the 1960s) before she married Edgar Jewell. Consequently, the Jewell family always maintained close ties to Brenau.

Mary died in 1953. In the early 1960s, when Jesse sold the company and retired, he used a large portion of his fortune to establish a scholarship fund at Brenau. Over the years, the fund has enabled many local women to attend Brenau.

Mary Jewell would be proud.

Rabbit statue-2

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One of the advantages of living not far from Athens, Georgia, is being able to pop over to the University of Georgia campus and do stuff.

There’s plenty to do and see. There is the Georgia Museum of Art, the State Botanical Garden, the Horticultural Trial Gardens. There is Founder’s Memorial Garden, the elegantly-manicured home of America’s first garden club.

There are excellent campus walking tours. Hiking and biking trails at UGA’s Oconee Forest Park. A sizable sports museum. And that’s just at the University, not Athens itself.

As of a week ago, I’ve added another excellent destination to my list: the UGA Special Collections Libraries.

That’s libraries, plural, because there are three of them, all housed in the imposing new Richard B. Russell Building.


One is the political library, a massive store of printed and recorded political material from 1900 to the present. Among them are the papers of Georgia Senator Richard B. “Slippery Dick” Russell (from the same era as Richard M. “Tricky Dick” Nixon).

The second is the manuscript library, which contains rare books, documents, maps, photographs, and other printed records, some dating from the 15th century.

The third is the media archive, which preserves audio-visual material — a vast collection of films, videos, audiotapes, raw news footage, and home movies going back to the 1920s.


Much of the material in the libraries is Georgia-related, of course, but the University wisely snatches up anything worth preserving. For example, UGA owns a complete 20-volume set of The North American Indian by Edward S. Curtis, the landmark work documenting the native American tribes and cultures of the old west.

The three libraries are there for preservation and research. Everything is fully digitized and easily searchable online. Plus, if you can show the need, you can request material from the vaults to examine firsthand.

Ah, yes, the vaults. Beneath the Russell Building is a massive, climate-controlled storage chamber that houses the physical collections. The space is a honeycomb of rows and shelves and is equipped with robotic “order pickers.”


Naturally, casual visitors like Rocky Smith don’t get to see all that. Civilians go there to see the public exhibits — rotating displays that highlight some of the material stored underground.

On display right now:

– A collection of vintage microphones, speakers, and radios, 1913 to 1933.
– Paintings by Winston Churchill, with notes about each from the man himself.
– The story of the long battle to establish the national school lunch program.
– An extensive exhibit of photographs from the Edward Curtis collection.

"Mosa -- Mohave" by Edward Curtis, 1903, one of the most mesmerizing photos in the Curtis collection. This is said to be the image that melted the heart of tycoon J. P. Morgan and persuaded him to fund the project when Curtis was almost broke.

“Mosa — Mohave” by Edward Curtis, 1903, one of the most mesmerizing photos in the Curtis collection. This is said to be the image that melted the heart of tycoon J. P. Morgan and persuaded him to fund the project when Curtis was broke.

Being a journalism major, a writer, and a former political speechwriter, I was enthralled.

A couple of hours later, aglow from the experience, I left the Russell Building and was walking back toward the parking deck. It was mid-week. The campus was aswarm with students.

On the lawn in front of the Russell Building, I paused to admire the beautiful, delicate blossoms on a small tree. I stepped closer to get a better look. I stood there, peering at the blossoms, enjoying the warm sun on my back.

“They’re cherry blossoms,” said a female voice behind me.

I turned around. It was Susie Coed, decked out in obligatory coed attire for a warm spring day: running shorts, running shoes, sunglasses, earbuds.

She had a blonde ponytail and an overstuffed backpack. Her smile was magnificent.

“I know my cherry blossoms,” she said. “I live in Virginia, close to D.C., where all the cherry trees are. They were a gift from Japan, a hundred years ago.”

It seemed surreal that this kid would strike up a conversation about flowers with some old dude on the street, but there it was.

“I lived in Falls Church back in grade school,” I told her. “I remember the cherry blossoms around the Tidal Basin. They were spectacular.”

She gestured toward the row of young trees along the walkway. “They planted these last year. They’re doing great!”

“They sure are. I was debating whether to take a photo.”

“Absolutely!” she said, hefting her backpack and turning to continue on her way. After a few steps, she looked back over her shoulder.

“Always get the photo!” she said. “Always!”

Sound advice, indeed.


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The Questions…

1. The Statue of Liberty, created by French sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi, was dedicated in 1886 as a gift to America from the people of France. That, however, was Bartholdi’s Plan B. He originally wanted to build the statue in Egypt. How did it end up in New York Harbor?

2. Which cartoon character was the first to appear on a U.S. postage stamp?

3. The first student protest at a college in the soon-to-be United States occurred in 1766. What was it about?

4. During World War I, because of their acute sense of hearing, birds were kept at the top of the Eiffel Tower to warn of approaching enemy planes. The birds were able to detect aircraft long before military lookouts could see or hear anything. What kind of birds were used?

5. Speaking of birds, when Edgar Allan Poe initially sat down to write “The Raven,” what bird did he envision tapping at the chamber door and uttering “Nevermore”?

The Answers…

1. In the 1860s, Bartholdi proposed building a giant lighthouse at the entrance of the Suez Canal in the form of the goddess Isis, holding a torch aloft. Egypt said no.

2. Bugs Bunny, 1997.

3. The protest occurred at Harvard University when sour butter was served in the dining hall. Known as the “Great Butter Rebellion,” the protest lasted a month and resulted in the suspension of half the Harvard student body.

4. Parrots.

5. A parrot. Fortunately, Poe came to his senses. He later admitted that the raven was “infinitely more in keeping with the intended tone” of the poem.

Statue of Liberty



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Payne’s Place

Back in olden times, when I was a student at the University of Georgia, the legal drinking age was 21.

A decade later, in 1972, Georgia and most other states lowered the drinking age to 18. I was indignant.

Why change it to 18? Because in 1971, the U.S. adopted the 26th Amendment, which established 18 as the legal voting age nationwide.

Back then, the Vietnam War was vacuuming up 18-year-olds at an alarming rate. The rallying cry in favor of the 26th Amendment was “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” By that logic, lowering the drinking age to 18 seemed right.

But, no big surprise, college campuses began to see an alarming upsurge in alcohol-related problems. In 1984, the federal government reacted. Congress passed the Drinking Age Act, which reduced the highway funds of any state that allowed persons younger than 21 to purchase alcoholic beverages.

The states reacted speedily to protect their highway funds. By 1986, most of them had bumped the legal drinking age back up to 21.

ANYHOO, at the University of Georgia in the 1960s, the drinking age was 21, and 90 percent of the students could not legally purchase or drink alcohol. Plenty of them, of course, did it anyway. After all, when there’s a will, there’s a way.

One way was through the fraternities and sororities, which provided the booze and the protection to drink it.

Another way was to persuade a 21-year-old friend to purchase the alcohol for you. Sometimes they charged a service fee, sometimes they didn’t.

In addition, there were cases where students obtained fake I.D. cards. Sometimes the phony cards worked, sometimes they didn’t.

And finally, some lucky students were able to find a drinking establishment where the proprietor was willing to serve them, drinking age be damned.

In the fall of 1960, early in my freshman year, when I was a lad of 17, it was my good fortune to discover such a bar on the outskirts of Athens.

Payne’s Place was a small, no-frills Southern beer joint, located a mile or two east of town in the middle of nowhere. Technically, I suppose, it was a juke joint, because it had a jukebox. Payne’s Place was too minor-league for live music.

The bar was owned and operated by Mr. Dorsey Payne, a stoic, unflappable man in his 40s who ran the place and maintained order with authority and efficiency. Anyone who got out of line was ousted on the spot and banned from the establishment. He was cordial if he liked you, icy cold if he didn’t.

Dorsey was a stocky, solid, balding guy, sort of like a Southern Tony Soprano. He was a typical man of his time: reticent, proud, and hard-working, with a dry wit he displayed on rare occasions.

On a typical Friday or Saturday night, Payne’s Place had perhaps 25 patrons. The clientele was roughly one-third UGA students (virtually all of them underage) and two-thirds blue-collar locals.

Neither group had any use for the other, but we coexisted by blithely ignoring each other. The rules of the house demanded it.

Dorsey, of course, was a blue-collar local himself. Accordingly, the townies called him Dorsey, and the UGA students called him Mr. Payne.

No one patronized Payne’s Place without Dorsey’s explicit approval. If he didn’t like someone’s looks or attitude, he told them not to come back. Thanks to Dorsey, the bar was an oasis of civility and good cheer.

Payne’s Place occupied a small one-story building, a former residence that at some point had been gutted and rebuilt. It consisted of two large rooms — the main bar room on one side and a large open dance floor on the other. In the back were restrooms and a couple of small storage rooms.

Over time, the dance floor got smaller as Dorsey brought in more tables and chairs. Before long, he added two pool tables, and the dance floor was history.

The pool tables were a welcome addition, but within a few months, they caused Dorsey a huge round of aggravation and expense.

It happened because, unknown to Dorsey, Clark County had an ordinance that prohibited a bar from operating under the same roof as a billiards parlor. Dorsey was told he had a choice: keep the bar or keep the pool tables.

Dorsey was furious with the county for intruding on his business over a law he considered ridiculous. But he was a practical and determined fellow, and he came up with a way around the law.

His solution was ingenious. A team of carpenters descended on Payne’s Place and, using the empty attic space and a series of strategic beams, created a large vaulted ceiling above the two main rooms. Then they sliced open the roof of the building, dividing it into two separate roofs that overlapped in the center.

When they finished, the main bar room and the pool tables, technically, were under separate roofs.

Heat loss through the narrow opening wasn’t a problem; they filled it with insulation. As far as I know, even in the hardest downpour, rain never got in.

Probably because they admired Dorsey’s mettle, the county officials relented. Dorsey was allowed to keep both the bar and the pool tables. He had taken on the bureaucrats and prevailed.

Business was good at Payne’s Place for the entire time I was in college. For four years, it was my bar of choice. I spent numerous Friday and Saturday nights there with my pals.

For the record, I did not fritter away my college years in a haze of merry-making. I went out with friends on weekends only. My grades were good, and I stayed out of trouble. I made sure of that, because I knew Dad’s wrath would be swift and terrible otherwise.

After I graduated and left Athens, I rarely thought about Dorsey Payne and the little country bar that meant so much to me as a student. I regret that very much.

On a trip to Athens years later, I tried to pinpoint the bar’s location on Lexington Road. But by then, the street had been widened, and both sides were lined with new homes, apartments, and businesses. Finding where the bar stood was hopeless.

What happened to Payne’s Place after my time, I have no idea. Odds are, Dorsey continued in business, serving beer to a succession of grateful underage college students over the years.

If so, I hope the business prospered. When the time came, I hope Dorsey sold his land to a rich developer, or to MacDonald’s. I hope he retired to the beach with a windfall of cash and plenty of time to enjoy it.

An unidentified drinking establishment from the 1960s. Payne's Place wasn't quite this fancy.

An unidentified drinking establishment from the 1960s. Payne’s Place wasn’t quite this fancy.

This one is more like it.

This one is more like it.

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