An unusual reunion at an unlikely place


       For a moment, I was taken aback by the request. Someone was trying to herd together our quickly dispersing group for a photo. My immediate thought, an instinctive reaction, was that it wasn’t going to happen.

      I figured the assembled crowd would ignore the plea and simply drift away. This was not a normal group of folks.
     Newspaper people don’t pose for photos. I don’t know why. We just don’t. Though we were in the news gathering business for many years, we did a woefully inadequate job of recording our own history.
      Looking back on my 34-year career in journalism, the dearth of photos is one of my biggest disappointments. There is scant little evidence of where I worked and who I worked with. The sad reality, I have far fewer photos of myself during my 27 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution than I have of my daughter from every single volleyball game she has ever played.
        But November 21 was an unusual day, to put it mildly. The group of newsroom veterans, which included former managing editors, department heads, columnists, editors, beat reporters, even a Pulitzer Prize winner, quietly gathered into a loosely-defined mass and cheerfully posed for photos. We almost looked comfortable and relaxed.
       Most unusual of all was the location of the photo – in front of a church.
       Did I mention this was an unusual day?
       Most of the people in the group have left the AJC in the past 2-3 years, through early retirement or buyout. One current AJC reporter, absent from the photo, was busy working on a story in her car in the church parking lot. She had a 3 p.m. deadline. A couple other AJC alumni slipped away before the photo was taken.
        Some of the newspaper veterans in our little reunion have remained in the business, writing for other news organizations or freelancing. Many have moved into public relations, corporate jobs, or are teaching.
      Some, like Thomas Oliver, a former senior editor and columnist at the AJC, have pursued new dreams. Oliver now lives in Tybee Island where he can be found playing his guitar and singing in various clubs.
      Former managing editor and Pulitzer Prize winner Hank Klibanoff is a distinguished journalism professor at Emory. 
      One of the AJC alumni in the photo—aging poorly and fighting a desperate battle against baldness—is now editor of the North Georgia Advocate and serving as part-time pastor of 157-year-old Ebenezer UMC in Roswell.
      Former AJC Sports Editor and Sunday Editor, Robert Mashburn, hasn’t quite gotten the newspaper bug out of his system. With good newspaper jobs in short supply in the United States, Mashburn took a job last year as sports editor of an English-language paper in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.
        It was Mashburn’s visit home two weeks ago that sparked our unofficial mini-AJC reunion at Ebenezer UMC. Mashburn said he was eager to visit the church where I am serving as pastor. We first met 33 years ago as young sports writers at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. 
         I thought it would be a great idea if Oliver would agree to do special music for the Sunday when Mashburn visited. He agreed to make the trek from Tybee.     
        I next called our former boss, and close friend, Don Boykin, a former deputy managing editor at the AJC, to ask if he would participate in the service by reading scripture and offering a prayer. Don and his wife, Lynn, have been actively involved in various ministries and mission projects over the years. They agreed to make the long drive from Fayetteville.
      The unofficial “reunion” gained momentum from there. Our former AJC colleagues arrived at the 11 a.m. service from Atlanta, Decatur, Snellville and West Cobb.
     Pulitzer-Prize winning political cartoonist Mike Luckovich, who was taping a TV special on WXIA that morning, could not attend, but provided a cartoon to run on the cover of the Ebenezer bulletin.
     Cynthia Tucker, a Pultizer-Prize winning opinion writer, now based in Washington, D.C., sent a personal note that I read to the congregation. Furman Bisher, still spry and working at 93, had a family emergency and sent his regrets, saying, “I had looked forward to our special Journal service.”
      We know in Furman’s view, even after all these years, nothing is really special if it includes the Constitution.
      â€œI do hope you will plan another,” Bisher wrote.
       There is always a chance we could plan another, but it would never be the same. 
       It was a most unusual day. I’m glad I got a photo for evidence.