Michael Bird new mug

Michael Bird

There isn’t more I can add to what our beautiful and talented editor, Carmen Rodgers, had to say on these pages last week.

However, as of this moment, I am now the oldest writer in the Tallassee Tribune with the longest tenure.

This is a dubious honor.

When Jack and Jo Venable gave me the opportunity to fill this space each week – with some encouragement from Willie G. Moseley – I learned from the other columnists who were on these pages: Pete Cottle, Jack Solomon, Willie G. Moseley – and Ronald Brantley.

It is somehow strange and surreal that I am now in this elder position, but I wish to thank the readers of this newspaper for hanging in there through all the changes.  And for continuing to read even as “Dirty Digs” ended, then the Coffee Breaker departed.

The newspaper you are holding in your hands is that first draft of history that everyone talks about.

Small town papers like ours are a dying breed.

And while everyone around us is lost in a sea of opinions, editorializing, half-truths and obfuscations, the Tribune stands tall as a bastion of positivity: a place where the glass is always half-full when it comes to Tallassee.

Nobody personified that more than Ronald Brantley.

For 60-plus years, he operated a barber shop in this town.  He entertained listeners with a radio show, a TV program, and a weekly column in this newspaper.

As my father noted, Ronald Brantley was Tallassee’s answer to Will Rogers, Mark Twain, and Garrison Keillor.

Last week, when Mr. Brantley departed this world, I could only think of those comparisons as I found that Brantley was so much more than the sum of those parts in this community.

He worked at Mount Vernon Mills, and spoke (and wrote) in a language he called “cotton mill”.  If you asked how he was doing, he would say he was doing “terrible”.  He lived on Poverty Lane.

He collected military vehicles and ran a sign shop alongside his barber business.  He knew everything about everybody, but many secrets remain hidden within the barber shop walls.

Mr. Brantley encouraged me to get into newspaper writing and the radio business.  I had some experience, but without his gentle push I don’t think I could have gotten a gig in this town.

In the spring of 2011, Mr. Brantley decided to retire from radio, and I became his permanent substitute on WACQ Saturday mornings.

And now, it’s crazy to say this, but I am not only the oldest but the longest-running columnist in this very newspaper.  Thanks to the example set by Brantley, I’ve gotten to meet a lot of people and find out about so many wonderful things that make our town the greatest.

Will Rogers wrote his own epitaph.  It says, “I joked about every prominent man of my time, but I never met a man I didn’t like."

Sharing a radio job and newspaper page with this man were two of the greatest honors of my life.  I shall always be grateful to have crossed paths with Ronald Brantley.  He never met a man he didn’t like.