Looking up to those who’ve passed

Elliott climbed the ladder as I steadied it from below. Once he got to the top, he had nothing to hold onto but his camera and the good will of gravity. He snapped several pictures before I called him back down the ladder and before he came falling back down the ladder, which was starting to jitter way too much to be trusted or controlled.

It was a small blimp we were taking pictures of that day, one used to hover over fields to collect crop data, but I’m not sure. But the image of looking up at Elliott Minor (looking up at his not-so-pretty side from my vantage point holding the ladder below), well, I remember.

At the time and it might have been nine years ago, I was a communications person working with the University of Georgia ag college. Elliott was, and remained until his retirement, the Associated Press writer in Albany, Ga., covering east Alabama, south Georgia and north Florida. Most farmers in the area know who I’m talking about: Elliott was the big-bearded, cargo-vest wearing, comfortable-looking fellow in the straw big-brimmed hat who was hammered with many second glances (and rolled eyes) until folks realized he was as sincere and earnest a reporter and person who ever lived.

I knew Elliott before I worked with UGA. We worked together for several years at the paper in Albany. To me, Elliott was the big guy in the newsroom. He was AP. The big times, my boy. In fact, Elliott was the guy who told me to apply for the communications job with UGA Extension. Though I really hated to leave that newsroom and my first job out of college, I’m glad I did apply for that "gov'ment" job.

Though Elliott was the AP jack-of-all-trades for the Deep Southeast, his joy was writing about rural and sometimes quirky Southern things and folks. His expertise was agriculture, talking to farmers or looking at a new neat way to farm. Elliott was gentle and happy to help anyone. He never saw another reporter as competition to be avoided or to act rude to. That just wasn’t in him. I learned that from him. I learned to never be afraid to ask a question, even if you “think” you know the answer. Get the source, a good source, to give you the quote. And, if you need to get those quotes checked, do it. And above all, don’t ever let your natural enthusiasm or curiosity waver. Use them both and don’t be ashamed of them.

Elliott died last week. Cancer. He was 71. He got about six years of retirement in before God needed someone in Heaven to ask good questions. And as I write this, I look out my window here and up into the clouds. Don’t know why. Maybe I’m looking up the ladder to see Elliott. Or, maybe I’m still just looking up to him.

Joe Courson, a well-known Georgia agriculture radio and TV man, died last week, too. He was 62. Cancer. Crazy how things go. I worked with Joe a year before he retired in 2002 from UGA Extension. He had courage and never met a pun he couldn’t make work in a story. He taught a young fellow a lot about the politics of a land-grant university and how to survive in one. I thank him for that.

I think about many people who've helped me without ever knowing they did.

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