Beth Alston: Sad farewells to two friends of the newspaper

Published 11:51 am Sunday, July 28, 2019

Being in the newspaper business for so long, 34 years now, it’s rewarding to form longtime and meaningful relationships with people. Two of those relationships ended recently with death.
Alan Anderson, local historian and retired educator, died on July 12 after a long battle with dementia issues. And Mike Cochran, avid pilot and also a retired educator, died earlier this week in a plane crash, along with another friend, Edd Anthony. The Americus Times-Recorder offers sincere condolences to the families of all three.
I first met Alan at then Georgia Southwestern College, in a human sexuality class we were both taking. I didn’t run into him again until years later when I became friends of his sister Mary Jo Anderson and his mother Edna Anderson through the Sumter Players community theater organization. By that time, Alan was the official archivist for the Sumter Historic Trust, and a vessel of invaluable information about the deep history of the community.
Eventually, when I became managing editor of the Times-Recorder, Alan approached me about writing a history column a couple of times a month. It was a great hit with our readership! Scouring the newspaper’s archives, he would pull out interesting items from back issues of the local newspaper and also include historic photos. Each of his columns would cover a chronological period, such as January 1900-January 1901. It was fascinating reading, especially noting the changes in the use of the language and the ever-changing political times. Occasionally, he would offer up a feature story, citing stories from the Times-Recorder archives, on a specific topic such as a murder case from long ago. Those were hugely popular as well.
Alan authored two books, one being a collection of his columns previously published in the Times-Recorder. If I ever had a question about a historical fact, I could just ask him. If he didn’t immediately know the answer, he would research it and get back to me. Often he already knew the answer off the cuff. His mind was an amazing thing, which makes it even more tragic that he forgot so much during his last, declining years. As his sister said, Alan is at peace now and suffers no more. I’m thankful to have been able to know him and work with him.
Clive Rainey, formerly of Habitat for Humanity International in Americus, who now lives in Guatemala, wrote of Alan Anderson the Aldridge Funeral Services’ webpage:
“Every small town should be lucky enough to have an Alan Anderson! Alan was a much loved teacher both in and out of the classroom. He was also a great interpreter of local history which is always a mix of fact and fiction. Somehow Alan could find his way through the mix sometimes debunking myths and deflating egos at one and the same time and bringing to light new bits of information which sometimes gave folks new bragging rights about their families. When I bought a house on Church Street he presented me, as a gift, detailed information on its history. During my tenure in that house, if he found new information he would come by to share it. The story of Americus and Sumter County is better for his having been part of it!
“He was also a Sumter Players actor who participated in The Andersonville Trial the biennial rehearsals and presentations for which were opportunities to learn more of that history from him. His wealth of knowledge commanded respect in all settings. Alan illuminated our community’s history. May his legacy be a guiding star for all of us. Well done, Alan!”
Alan will be missed by so many.”
Mike Cochran was a veteran educator and longtime pilot, and my “go-to” guy whenever I had questions about general aviation and/or the history of Souther Field, which was renamed Jimmy Carter Regional Airport. Mike, being the historian of Souther Field, had access to all kinds of knowledge as well as photos and even people who were willing to share memories. He introduced me, at the 100th anniversary celebration of Souther Field last fall, to a gentleman whose father had actually worked at the field. It was thrilling to meet 91-year-old Bill Parsons. Mike was thoughtful like that.
Having practically grown up at the former Souther Field airport, he and I had much in common. My late father, a World War II hero, hangered his Piper Tri-Pacer there for several years so we spent many happy hours at the old terminal, talking to people like the late Ralph Kiker, who taught Daddy and legions of others how to fly, as well as fellow pilots who used the field. Mike knew my dad’s airplane when I mentioned it him!
Mike loved flying, Souther Field, and South Georgia Technical College, from where he graduated with two degrees and also was an instructor for almost 30 years. He was also a Christian and kind to a fault. He took a kid I had met flying once and gave the young man the experience of a lifetime, which helped in guiding him to seek an aviation-related degree from South Georgia Tech. That day when the young man went up with Mike for his first-ever flight, in Mike’s plane, Mike patiently explained how the plane worked, and went through the drill with him: preflight inspection, etc. before taking off with him. The look on that kid’s face when they landed was priceless. I had to hide my tears. He was so excited and talked and talked about it. That’s the kind of enthusiasm Mike sought to evoke in youngsters about aviation. It was one of the more satisfying stories I’ve ever had the pleasure to write for this newspaper.
Mike was also very generous with the newspaper in sharing aerial photographs of places we simply couldn’t get to, such as flooding in the Flint River area and overhead views of the path of the 2007 tornado and its damage here.
South Georgia Technical College President John Watford said of the loss of Mike Cochran, “On behalf of everyone at South Georgia Technical College, I would like to extend our condolences to the family and many friends and colleagues of Mike Cochran. We were saddened to hear of his loss and our thoughts and prayers go out to everyone affected.”
Both of these fine men — Alan Anderson and Mike Cochran — who loved history as well as their families and their community, are sorely missed in our little town. While I’m unaware if they ever met here on Earth, it makes me smile to imagine them meeting in heaven and having eternity to talk about and share their historic genius. God speed.

Beth Alston is publisher and editor of the Americus Times-Recorder. Contact her at beth.alston@americustimesrecorder.com or 229-924-2751, ext. 3052.