Category Archives: Writers

Podcast S7E15: Liberty Street: A Savannah Family, Its Golden Boy, and the Civil War

Stan interviews author Jason Friedman about his new book, Liberty Street. Jason and his husband bought a townhouse on Liberty Street in his hometown of Savannah. But that was just the beginning of a remarkable journey: “It’s a house that came with a story: the rise and fall of a Southern Jewish family and a ghost story whose long-dead characters still haunt the present. Liberty Street chronicles my journey to understand the Solomon Cohen family and the way their lives intersected with their enslaved workers, Savannah’s Jewish community, and their Christian neighbors. I became interested in the way we talk about the Civil War, its origins, and aftermath. What do we remember? Or choose to forget?  I came to know the denizens of Liberty Street 150 years before I moved there, and to understand my own story as a Jew, a Southerner, and an American.”

Boswell and Johnson Walk Into a Bookstore: May 16, 1763

On Monday, May 16, 1763, 261 years ago this week, young James Boswell was introduced to Samuel Johnson at Thomas Davies’s bookshop on Russell Street, near Covent Garden in London. Boswell was a 22-year-old Scotsman, perhaps best described as what we’d today call a “social influencer”—he wanted to be famous, and he was hugely ambitious. Johnson was 53, an already-acclaimed writer and author that Boswell desperately wanted to meet. Boswell famously described their meeting years later: Boswell went to his friend Davies’s bookstore for afternoon tea, and in walked Johnson. Introducing the two, and knowing the grumpy Johnson’s dislike of the Scots, Davies playfully revealed Boswell’s nationality. Boswell blurted out, ““Mr. Johnson, I do indeed come from Scotland, but I cannot help it.” Johnson’s riposte: “That, Sir, I find, is what a very great many of your countrymen cannot help.” Such was the beginning of one of the most famous—if bumpy—friendships in all of literature.

I wrote about Boswell in another blog entry from December 10, 2014, nearly 10 years ago, and on this auspicious anniversary of that famous meeting, I can do no better than to quote a bit from that post (with slight editing) again here:

“I am lost without my Boswell.” So says Sherlock Holmes about Dr. Watson in “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Boswell is most famous as the author of the monumental biography, The Life of Samuel Johnson, first published in 1791 and never out of print. I bought a nice Easton Press edition in three volumes a few years back and loved it. Boswell is best known as Johnson’s biographer, but he was a fascinating and complex man in his own right, well worthy of our attention, and his published journals are just the place to start.

Boswell would be well at home in today’s world of social media. He kept extensive journals throughout his life, covering the most intimate details of his private goings-on and detailed transcriptions of his conversations with the great men and women of 18th-century Britain, including Georgia’s founder James Edward Oglethorpe, Samuel Johnson of course, the artist Joshua Reynolds, actor David Garrick, writer Oliver Goldsmith, the aforementioned David Hume, Voltaire, and many, many others.

And just like today’s most avaricious social media posters, he held nothing back, even when he probably should have. He wrote about everything: politics, art, literature, court intrigues, his sexual and sensual escapades (including cavorting with London’s prostitutes and contracting and living with an STD), the peccadilloes of his friends and associates, falling out with his father over his chosen career, his fear of ghosts, and everything else you can imagine. He was an inveterate sinner who feared damnation but would walk out of a church and have sex with a prostitute. Sometimes he would miss the sermon because he was lusting over a woman in another pew. It is about as revealing a snapshot of everyday life in 18th-century Britain—and a man driven by and forever at war with his passions—as we are ever likely to have, and it is all fascinating, a ripping good read.

Boswell died in 1795 at age 54, leaving behind a wealth of personal papers and journals that he hoped would one day be published. His family, however, had other ideas. Generations of his descendants thought his writings inappropriate and scandalous, detailing as they did his every whim, fancy, and indiscretion. They were also ashamed of their association with a man whom they considered to have lowered himself by acting the sycophant to the overbearing and boorish Johnson simply to obtain material for his biography.

Boswell’s descendants didn’t exactly lose his writings, but it’s safe to say they put them away and mostly forgot about them as they passed from generation to generation. They were “rediscovered” in the 1920s and 1930s in a croquet box at Malahide Castle in Ireland and in a stable loft at the home of a Scottish laird at Fettercairn House near Aberdeen.

The story of the Boswell Papers’ disappearance and re-discovery is told in fascinating if sometimes excruciating details in Frederick Pottle’s Pride and Negligence: The History of the Boswell Papers (1981) and in David Buchanan’s more enthralling The Treasures of Auchinleck: The Story of the Boswell Papers (1974). Pottle was a lifelong Boswell scholar and edited, in the “Boswell Factory” at Yale, all but one of the thirteen volumes of the popularly published journals that begin with the London Journal.

When Boswell’s London Journal, 1762-1763, was first published in 1950, it was a surprising best seller and one can see why. It’s racy and titillating, gossipy and erudite, introspective and philosophical, witty and just plain fun. There are two famous scenes in these pages: Bozzy’s first meeting with Johnson on May 19, 1763, of course, but also the memorable day when he confronts his girlfriend Louisa as to whether she knowingly gave him a venereal disease: “Madam, I have had no connection with any woman but you these two months. I was with my surgeon this morning, who declared I had got a strong infection, and that she from whom I had it could not be ignorant of it. Madam, such a thing in this case is worse than from a woman of the town, as from her you may expect it. You have used me very ill. I did not deserve it.” Louisa protested her innocence, but to no avail. Boswell stormed out and ended the relationship. Later in a quieter moment he confessed to his journal that he’d had this same disease twice before, but if he ever apologized to poor Louisa, the journal is silent.

Boswell kept on writing till his last days, and though his father scolded him for keeping “a register of his follies and communicat[ing] it to others as if proud of them,” we are the ultimate beneficiaries. There are twelve other volumes after this one and I look forward to reading them all.


With the publication of Boswell’s Journals, the perception of the famous friendship has begun to change: Boswell has come into his own as one of the great historical figures of the 18th century, a flawed genius that, for many people, now eclipses Johnson’s brilliance. In Clifton Fadiman’s words, “the disciple is beginning to overshadow the master.” Boswell, he rightly insisted, “is more than a superb reporter. He is an artist, just as surely as Rembrandt.”

The literature on Boswell, Johnson, and their famous friendship is vast, but start, as mentioned above, with the London Journal, then read as many of the other Journals as you desire. I’ve since read six volumes now, with seven more to go. They never disappoint. And of course, read Boswell’s Life of Johnson, which critic Michael Dirda called “the greatest of all biographies and probably the most entertaining book in English literature.”

But you don’t have to stop there. In addition to the Pottle and Buchanan books cited above, I recommend the following: Frederick Pottle, James Boswell: The Earlier Years, 1740-1769 (1966); W. Jackson Bate, Samuel Johnson (1977, winner of the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Biography); Frank Brady, James Boswell: The Later Years, 1769-1795 (1984); Peter Martin, A Life of James Boswell (2000); Liza Picard, Dr. Johnson’s London (2001); Adam Sisman, Boswell’s Presumptuous Task: The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson (2001) Peter Martin, Samuel Johnson: A Biography (2008); John B. Radner, Johnson and Boswell: A Biography of Friendship (2013); and Leo Damrosch, The Club:  Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped An Age (2020).

As for the date of that famous meeting, Boswell missed dying on the anniversary itself by three days—32 years later—on May 19, 1795. He is buried in the family vault at Auchinleck Old Churchyard in Auchinleck, Scotland. Johnson died on December 13, 1784, at age 75, and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

But how’s this for coincidence? Frederick Pottle, the man who spent nearly his entire professional career as the editor and biographer of Boswell and his papers, considered the greatest Boswell scholar of all, himself died on the anniversary of that famous meeting, on May 16, 1987, at age 89. I suspect that would have pleased Dr. Pottle very much. No Westminster Abbey for him: Pottle is buried, appropriately, at Elmwood Cemetery in quiet Otisfield, Maine.

Alas, the Boswell Papers Project at Yale that Pottle captained for so long is no more, unceremoniously shut down by Yale bean counters during the pandemic. But the great friendship that began on that long-ago Monday in a London bookstore lives on for all of us to discover and explore, not only through print but now also on numerous social media pages and forums, dedicated to every aspect of Boswell, his life, and his world, in all his wickedness and glory—which he most assuredly would have loved.

Savannah, May 16, 2024

The Freshest Advices, May 10, 2024

Hello again. It’s been 8 months since I’ve written in this space (not counting two editorials), so it’s good to be back in between podcasts and other duties as assigned. Let’s dive right in, shall we?

Baseball, and Trying to Watch Baseball: The Beloved Braves got off to a hot start, despite losing Spencer Strider for the year, but at this moment they’ve cooled off considerably and let the Hated Phillies (HPs) catch and pass them in the standings. We’re now looking up at the HPs from second place. I doubt that will hold for the season, but if it does, I’m fine with that. Maybe we can reverse the trend from the last two years and go into the postseason as a Wild Card team, make the HPs sit around for a week as their reward for winning the division, and then beat them in the best-of-five second round. Between now and then, we will pray to Hermes, the Greek god of coaxial cable, that Comcast and Bally Sports can work out their problems so that long-suffering fans can actually watch the team again. More than any other league, Major League Baseball makes it incredibly difficult to actually watch the sport. From regional sports networks like Bally that are forever fighting with carriers Comcast and DirecTV, to Friday games on Apple TV, Saturday games on Fox or FS1, Sunday games on ESPN, and whatever games aren’t blacked-out in your region on the expensive MLB app, baseball can be harder to find than Uncle Pootsie’s dentures. Of course, if the Braves continue to play like they did in Los Angeles last weekend, we’ll pay Comcast to keep them off the air and set fire to our remotes in protest. Stay tuned.

Books, Books, and Books: If you’ve been listening to the recent Off the Deaton Path podcasts—and of course you have—then you know I’ve read some great books this year: Michael Thurmond’s new take on Georgia founder James Oglethorpe, Jerry Grillo’s biography of Johnny Mize, the Big Cat, David Henkin’s fascinating exploration of the origins of The Week, Pulitzer-Prize winner David Blight’s uncovering the unexpected history of Yale and Slavery, John O’Connor’s Secret History of Bigfoot, Clayton Trutor’s award-winning Loserville, and Elizabeth Varon’s pathbreaking biography of Confederate general James Longstreet.

What else have I been reading in 2024? The history of the British monarchy fascinates me—as does the death of famous people—and Dr. Suzie Edge has become a Tik-Tok star because of her incredible knowledge on the history of the Royals and all the horrible ways they’ve died. Check out her recent Mortal Monarchs: 1,000 Years of Royal Deaths.

Staying with the theme, if, like me, you’ve always wanted to get a peek behind the curtain at your local funeral home—or even if you haven’t—I highly recommend Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons From the Crematory. Yes, it’s every bit as gruesome as you’d think but endlessly fascinating.

Speaking of gruesome, who knew that Joseph Stalin, in addition to being one of the most vicious tyrants in world history, was also a voracious reader? And he wrote in his books, many of which have survived and are preserved in Moscow. It’s all detailed in Geoffrey Roberts’s Stalin’s Library: A Dictator and His Books.

Speaking of Stalin, I also read The Groves of Academe, Mary McCarthy’s 1952 Joseph McCarthy-era campus novel that a recent New York Times article proclaimed as the novel that explains the current crisis in American higher education. To quote from the NYT: “Every squawking buzzard in American public life — every quarrel about race, class, sex, foreign policy, pronoun usage — takes wing from or comes home to roost on campus. The crisis is permanent, structural, a feature of the conflicting expectations we impose on our schools. There is a vast body of scholarship to explain why this is so. Academia is a serious place, and it takes itself seriously. But it is also, like Hollywood or Washington, profoundly ridiculous — the kind of symbolically overburdened, sociologically peculiar environment that can only really be understood through satire. Luckily, we have an entire literary subgenre, the campus novel, to fulfill that requirement.”

McCarthy’s book is one very notable contribution to that subgenre and it captures the anti-Communist frenzy of the early 50s quite well. My favorite campus novel remains 1954’s Lucky Jim by Kinglsey Amis.

A strong runner-up, however, also read recently, has to be Julie Schumacher’s hilariously funny Dear Committee Trilogy: Dear Committee Members, The Shakespeare Requirement, and The English Experience. The trilogy follows the travails of Jason Fitger, a sad sack, rumpled aging professor and chair of creative writing and literature at Payne University, “a small and not very distinguished liberal arts college in the Midwest.” For all that our college campuses are ground zero for the country’s culture wars, Schumacher’s trio of books will give you a cringe-worthy too-real-for-comfort look at the smallness and silliness of cut-throat university politics and the personalities that engage in them.

Speaking of campus politics in popular culture, check out Lucky Hank, an 8-part TV series that aired on AMC last spring and again this winter. It starred Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad, Better Caul Saul) as Hank Devereaux, the English department chair at a small Pennsylvania college, based on Richard Russo’s 1997 novel, Straight Man. The casting was spot-on (watch for Tom Bower, who played Mary Ellen Walton’s husband Kirk on The Waltons 45 years ago, as Hank Devereux Sr.) and the acting brilliant, perfectly capturing the personalities at play in the modern academy. I haven’t read Russo’s book, so I’ve no idea how faithful the show was to it, but we’ll save the subject of turning books into other mediums—or using another author’s book as the basis for your own—for another blog post.

Okay, maybe just a little bit about books adapted into movies. I recently re-read Richard Adams’s Watership Down, first published in 1972 and then turned into a 1978 animated film, a 1999-2001 TV series, and a 2018 animated re-boot. I haven’t watched any of them and probably won’t, because I love the book too much as a book to have it filtered through another lens. I first read this novel in Ms. Hewitt’s 11th-grade literature class at South Gwinnett High School in 1981 (God bless you, Ms. Hewitt, wherever you are), and re-read it two years later after my first year at UGA. The novel had a huge impact on me at that time, and I’ve hesitated to re-read it as a full-blown adult for fear I would find the whole story disappointing and not what I remembered. Turns out, the opposite is true—the book spoke to me much more now, 40+ years later, than it did then, sometimes in profoundly moving ways. This is the power of re-reading: the book hasn’t changed, but you have, and what you bring to it has altered, matured (hopefully), and deepened with the passage of time. In all likelihood, I’ll read it again in 10 years, if not before.

Great Books: Just recently I finished reading Montaigne’s Essays. Michel de Montaigne was the famous 16th-century Frenchman who practically invented the literary form we know today as the essay. Writing in his famous tower almost 450 years ago, Montaigne wrote mainly about himself—his mantra being “What do I know?”—and in so doing he wrote about all of us as well. Sarah Bakewell, in her award-winning 2012 book, How to Live, or A Life of Montaigne In One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer described it this way: “The twenty-first century is full of people who are full of themselves. . . thousands of individuals fascinated by their own personalities and shouting for attention. They go on about themselves; they diarize and chat, and upload photographs of everything they do. Uninhibitedly extrovert, they also look inward as never before. Even as bloggers and networkers delve into their private experience, they communicate with their fellow humans in a shared festival of the self. . .By describing what makes them different from anyone else, the contributors reveal what they share with everyone else: the experience of being human. This idea—writing about oneself to create a mirror in which other people recognize their own humanity—has not existed forever. It had to be invented….it can be traced to one person: Michel de Montaigne.”

The essays are at once easy and difficult to describe. Montaigne set about examining his interior life in 107 essays that have titles like “Of Friendship,” “Of Liars,” “Of the power of the imagination,” “Of drunkenness,” “Of books.” As Clifton Fadiman described them in The Lifetime Reading Plan, “They are formless, they rarely stick to the announced subject.” In fact, Montaigne may start off writing about the subject in the title of the essay, and then for the next dozen pages he may write about body odors, strange people who turn up at his house, the way his servants talk, or how he can’t eat certain foods. One essay that is ostensibly about the Roman poet Virgil discusses the size of Montaigne’s sexual organs and the pros and cons of marriage. They are literally all over the map, and loaded with quotations from his other reading, usually the ancient Greeks and Romans. Fadiman again: “Montaigne is not only the first informal essayist but incomparably the best. He writes as if he were continually enjoying himself, his weaknesses and oddities and stupidities no less than his virtues.”

All of which is why he’s read as avidly today as he was in his own time. The Essays went through multiple editions in French in Montaigne’s own lifetime and were first translated into English by John Florio in 1603. Readers have included Francis Bacon, William Shakespeare, Lord Byron, William Makepeace Thackeray, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, and Aldous Huxley. Quoting the Encyclopedia Britannica: “Voltaire and Denis Diderot saw in him a precursor of the free thought of the Enlightenment. Jean-Jacques Rousseau rightly considered Montaigne the master and the model of the self-portrait. Flaubert kept the Essays on his bedside table and recognized in Montaigne an alter ego.” Many others still do right up to the present day.

Here are some of his bon mots:

“I used to mark the burdensome and gloomy days as extraordinary. Those are now my ordinary ones; the extraordinary are the fine serene ones.”

“It is a rare life that remains well ordered even in private.”

“I set little value on my opinions, but I set just as little on those of others.”

“Old age puts more wrinkles in our minds than on our faces.”

“I am all in the open and in full view, born for company and friendship.”

“It is impossible to discuss things in good faith with a fool.”

“If you do not know how to die, don’t worry. Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately. She will do this job perfectly for you, don’t bother your head about it.”

“If your doctor does not think it good for you to sleep, to drink wine, or to eat such-and-such a food, don’t worry; I’ll find you another who will not agree with him.”

“On the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting on our own rump.”

I suggest Donald Frame’s translation, first published in 1958. The Essays are broken up into three “Books” that run to well over 800 pages. You need not read them from start to finish; as Fadiman noted, “you may wander about almost at will in Montaigne. He should be read as he wrote, unsystematically.” Alas, I’m too structured for that—I read one Book each year over the last three years, consuming the elephant in small bites.

However you decide to read him, I highly recommend making Montaigne and his Essays a part of your life, slowly, over a number of months or years. Consume him at your leisure, the way Fadiman suggests. You’ll discover, as so many others have over the last 400+ years, a kindred spirit who “appeals to that part of us more fascinated by the questions than the answers.”

Pulitzer Prizes: Finally, the 2024 Pulitzer Prizes were announced this week, and hurrahs are due to Director Lisa Bayer and the University of Georgia Press, publishers of this year’s winner for poetry, Tripas: Poems, by Brandon Som. Anytime a university press publishes a Pulitzer winner it’s a big deal, and when the winners are published by our good friends at UGA Press, it’s even better. Congratulations, one and all.

Stay safe, and until next time, thank you for reading.

The Freshest Advices, September 1, 2023

As I type these words here in my office atop the Jepson House in beautiful downtown Savannah, Hurricane Ida Lupino (or whatever it’s called) is furiously lashing my windows with wind and rain. By the time you read this it will be well on its way out into the Atlantic, but I hope wherever you are you are safe, sheltered, and unharmed.

College Football: It’s that time of year again, as the baseball season enters its last full month, to turn our thoughts to the agony/ecstasy that is college football. The season officially began last Saturday, August 26, but you probably didn’t even realize it, with few games to catch our attention. The season really begins on Thursday evening, August 31, and kicks into high gear over the Labor Day weekend. Our beloved Georgia Bulldogs are looking to be the first team to win three consecutive national championships since the University of Minnesota (!) in 1934-1936, back when Dexter was a baby. Since 1936 there have been 13 teams with a chance to win three nattys in a row, the last being Alabama in 2014, yet none have done it since the Golden Gophers during FDR’s first term. Can Georgia do it again this year? The Dawgs tee it up Saturday at 6pm against UT-Martin, and if you’re scratching your head and asking, “stepped in what?” you’re not alone. In addition to the Skyhawks, we play Ball State (Cardinals) and UAB (Blazers) as non-conference opponents. UGA’s schedule is ridiculously weak this year, with the marquee (and most difficult) matchup being Tennessee on November 18. If Georgia’s not undefeated at that point it won’t be the scheduler’s fault. Nevertheless, because we play in the SEC, ESPN still ranks the Dogs schedule as 31st in the nation out of 133 teams. We’ll make up for it next year, however, opening against Clemson at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, and in the SEC we play at Texas, at Alabama, at Mississippi, at Florida, and home against Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Auburn. Winning a championship is incredibly difficult, so for my part there’s no expectation for a three-peat, especially with a new and untested quarterback, but with Kirby Smart, anything’s possible. Keep the crying towels handy and Go Dogs.

Summer Reading: I finally got around to watching Turn Every Page, the 2022 documentary about the relationship between writer Robert Caro and his editor, Robert Gottlieb. Having read Caro’s 2019 book, Working, and Gottlieb’s 2016 memoir Avid Reader, there wasn’t much new for me in the film, but it’s still great fun to listen to two craftsmen talk about what they love to do. The duo began working together more than 50 years ago on Caro’s massive 1974 bio of Robert Moses, The Power Broker. Caro is now racing the clock (he’ll be 88 in October) to finish the 5th and presumably final volume of his monumental biography of Lyndon Johnson. Caro is thorough and meticulous but not fast (it’s been 11 years since the last volume appeared), hence the title of the documentary. Gottlieb, alas, won’t get to see the finish line, having died this year on June 14 at age 92. Write, Caro, write.

Speaking of massive tomes, I recently finished the first volume of Shelby Foote’s three-volume The Civil War: A Narrative (1958), which clocked in at 810 pages of closely written text. The next two volumes are even longer, and the whole thing totals just under 3,000 pages. The work has been picked apart by Civil War scholars over the last 60+ years, but it’s still beautifully written and if you’re going to spend 5 weeks with an author, you could do a lot worse than Shelby Foote. It’s even better if you can hear his voice sounding it all out as you read.

Also read this summer: The first volume of Douglass Southall Freeman’s four-volume R.E. Lee (1934), a Pulitzer winner and much more critical than I’d ever imagined. I’ve never been drawn to Lee, but this biography has been sitting on my shelf since I bought it at the now-defunct Jackson Street Books in Athens 37 years ago, so I finally took the plunge. Freeman’s interpretation of Lee has long since been challenged and mostly overturned, and his insistence that Lee made the only choice he could in serving the Confederacy rather than remaining loyal to the US is hash. Still, I expected this to be full-on hagiography with Lee as saintly knight, but that isn’t the case. Freeman was far more balanced than I ever gave him credit for, but that’s what often happens when one judges without reading. As with Foote, I’ll wait a year and dig into volume 2.

I re-read James Hilton’s novel Lost Horizon (1933), about the legendary mountain-top utopia Shangri-La and the mysterious Hugh “Glory” Conway’s visit there. What an absolute joy to read. This book, like Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips, is relatively short but packs a lot into a little. Hilton is mostly forgotten now—he died of liver cancer at age 54 in 1954—but this book was one of the most popular of the 20th century. I plan to re-visit Shangri-La every summer. [Sidebar: FDR loved this book and named the presidential retreat on Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain “Shangri-La”; Eisenhower, thinking it sounded too stuffy, re-named it “Camp David.”]

Other novels read this summer: Clyde Edgerton’s Rainey (1986) (hilarious) and Ferrol Sams’s Run With the Horseman (1982) (hilarious and moving). The latter was a high-school graduation gift received 41 years ago that I didn’t read at the time but, operating under the mantra that “every book finds its day,” I’m glad I waited. The exploits of “the boy” and his relationship to his father and the rest of his small community had much more to say to me now than it would have at 17. Staying with semi-autobiographical fiction, I just started Nina Stibbe’s 2014 novel, Man at the Helm, which, so far, is, as Shelby Foote would say, “just a pleasure to be part of.”

Meanwhile, in preparation for an upcoming podcast, my early morning reading is Jim Cobb’s fascinating new bio, C. Vann Woodward: America’s Historian (University of North Carolina Press). Jim is B. Phinizy Spalding Professor Emeritus of history at UGA. We’ll record the podcast in September, which will be fun. Stay tuned.

At lunchtime and bedtime, I’m finishing two other books with similar themes and self-explanatory titles: Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America’s Cemeteries, by Greg Melville (2022), and Sue Black’s All That Remains: A Renowned Forensic Scientist on Death, Mortality, and Solving Crimes (2018). Both are about death, dying, and what becomes of our remains when we’re gone. Perfect reading before rendering unto Morpheus the things that are Morpheus’s, as Clifton Fadiman said. 

Passages: Here in Savannah and across the state of Georgia, we mourn the death this week of Frank W. “Sonny” Seiler, the legendary lawyer and owner of a succession of Damn Good Dawgs all named UGA. Sonny was serving on the Board of the Georgia Historical Society when I arrived here 25 years ago. Like everyone else, I knew him from afar as UGA’s keeper and as one of the central figures in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (the book and the movie). Soon after I arrived in town, my boss Todd and I walked over to see Sonny in his office in the Armstrong House, across from Forsyth Park, the walls covered with oil paintings of various English bulldogs all named UGA. Introducing me, Todd explained that, like Sonny, I too was a Double Dog. Sonny cheerily waved me into his office, pointed to a chair, and said, in that inimitable voice, “Stan, siddown right heah and let the Dawgs look down upon you!” A Savannah and Georgia institution, Sonny died on Monday, August 28, at age 90.

Finally, Don Smith, television producer extraordinaire, died last Friday, August 25. I had the pleasure of working with Don on “Today in Georgia History,” produced jointly by GHS and Georgia Public Broadcasting, which I wrote about in this blog. Don brought a wealth of experience to the project, having spent years at Atlanta’s WAGA, CNN, GPB, and many other places besides. The Quitman, Georgia, native was tremendously talented—winner of 22 Emmys and a prestigious Peabody—smart, wickedly funny, and equal parts sweet, grumpy, and curmudgeonly fussy. Don was the first person I knew who practiced what is now called intermittent fasting; he ate once a day. It might be lunch or dinner, but never both. Being old school, he was a gifted raconteur with a wealth of stories and jokes, almost all of them off-color. Don frequently broke up the sound stage—especially poor fellow producer Bruce Burkhardt (and me)—at all the wrong moments as we recorded on set, usually with something hilarious that began, “As the actress said to the archbishop…” Peals of laughter ensued. Don complained, groused, and fussed through it all, but once he liked you, you were golden. Though we butted heads once or twice in the beginning, fortunately Don took to me almost instantly. Every minute you spent with him was a seminar on living, and I cherished it all. Hail and farewell, dear fellow. We’ll miss you.  

Stay safe, and until next time, thank you for reading.