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Leila S. Case: ‘Lu-Lu’ recalls early days with Times-Recorder

I pondered over Beth Alston’s reference to me as a “Times-Recorder veteran writer” in her column last week. I hadn’t thought of myself as a “veteran” of anything, but, she’s correct. In my heart I’m “twenty-something;” but not so in reality. Like a bad penny, I turn up where you least expect.
Although it seems like yesterday, more than three decades have passed since I first walked through the door of the Americus Times-Recorder. I was there for a job interview with Rudy Hayes, then managing editor, and Billy Blair, publisher. Ann Sheffield, then lifestyles editor, recommended they contact me. Why did Ann think I was qualified? I casually mentioned during an afternoon poolside chat at the former Americus Country Club that I majored in journalism at the University of Georgia.
To my amazement, and without a formal resume, Billy offered me the job on the news desk, but on a month’s trial basis. The consummate gentleman, Billy phrased the offer very diplomatically. I don’t think they thought I would stick around long. Later Rudy said he didn’t think I would last a week. I never asked him why but maybe they thought I had air between my ears for it  wasn’t long before a few of the office staff dubbed me “Lu-Lu.” Oh well, I’ve been called worse.
Thus, began a 23-year adventure with the T-R; I never thought of my job as work. It was exciting, challenging, and every day was different. Rudy sent me on countless assignments – all different and a few daunting in the early years. With the encouragement and support of my first husband, the late Buddy Barrett, and with Rudy as my mentor, I persevered and always returned from assignments – no matter how challenging – with a story to write.
Oh yes, there were dull days and nothing newsworthy to report but for the majority of the time I spent at my desk-in-the-corner there was plenty. And we covered the county from one end to the other.
I had been with the newspaper for less than three months, when then Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter of Plains tossed his hat in the ring, formally announcing his candidacy for United States president. Rudy sent me to Atlanta to cover the evening event at the Civic Center in early December 1974. The adrenaline flowed, my heart pumped and I jumped at the opportunity; I met the deadline. My story was published on the front page the next day and the myriad accompanying photos were on the inside jump page.
In the ensuing two years when the Man from Plains, as we like to refer to President Carter, campaigned for the presidency, I was in Plains so often – sometimes twice a day – I could put my trusty Toyota into auto-drive for the round trip.
Oh, I have countless other stories regarding the years I spent in the T-R newsroom – enough to fill a book but I’m not disciplined enough to sit still long enough to write about it all.
I am delighted to be back on the pages of this newspaper and though I am not in the office newsroom, I enjoy working at home as a freelance columnist/writer and contributing to Americus Scene magazine.
We have much to catch up on. And I can’t wait to tell you all about everything I know. Please keep me informed.
Meanwhile, President Carter is fighting his toughest challenge yet; please join me in prayer for strength and healing for the Man from Plains.
Out and about: Who says there is nowhere to go and nothing to see in Sumter County? I hear this often but folks making those comments aren’t looking in the right places. I agree we’re not New York or even Atlanta but we sure have some great events. For instance, the recent organ concert presented at the historic Rylander Theatre downtown was “over the top.” Fantastic. Justin LaVoie of Detroit, Michigan, a talented 20-year-old organist was brought here by the American Theater Organ Society, Atlanta Chapter and LaVoie’s two-hour performance at the Rylander’s mini Moller theater pipe organ was phenomenal. He drew rave reviews and standing ovations, causing some theater goers like Rene Smith to comment, “This is the best thing in town.” Rene was with his wife, Angela, his mom, Bernice Smith of Pinehurst; mother-in-law, Sherrill House and her curly haired five-year-old granddaughter, Celia House of Birmingham. Among others were John Tanner of Atlanta, who installed the “mini Mo” in 1999; Fred Bosca of Tallahassee, an accomplished theater organist, Martha Buhler Maddox, Kent Sole, Shirley Litwhiler, Lee Harris and daughter Laura Kate, Charles Crisp and others. Speaking of the Rylander, The Friends of the Rylander membership campaign is underway – please take a minute and join the Friends. The Friends have an impressive lineup of four live Broadways shows this season. The first, “Manhattan Dolls” Friday, September 18. Janet Siders is home from visting New Jersey; newlyweds Brandon and Lauren Shivers Vann getting settled in their attractive new home on Rose Avenue; my grandson Beau Barrett returns to Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, to complete the master’s in accounting program – where did his knowledge in math come from? Not me. His brother John Barrett returns to GSW and Sigma Chi; namesake Caroline Leila Herndon preparing for another year in GSW’s nursing program; huge congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Frank Alston Jr. of Parrott who recently celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary! They are the parents of Beth Alston. Jen O’Rourke home from vacation in Wyoming and Washington; Duke and Brenda Jackson visited their son Tristan Jackson and family in Redmond, Washington; celebrating birthdays this week are Jackie Merriman and John Dean; Mary Ann Crowley leads the Americus Rotary Club as president this year and Hank Hart is its newest member, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Henry Hart of Leslie; a hardy welcome to John Lea, 19, of Haugesund, Norway, a Georgia Rotary Student Program participant, attending GSW. His host family is Rotarian Reda Rowell and her husband Kelly Rowell; and it’s not too late to extend a warm welcome to Dr. Alex Riccardi who has joined her father Dr. Lou Riccardi in his dental practice.

Leila S. Case lives in Americus.