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After 51 years at The Herald, Nobles wouldn't change a thing

AJ Nobles

AJ Nobles

ALBANY -- A.J. Nobles remembers the day in the early '60s when he walked into the office of Albany Herald publisher James Gray Sr. and asked for nine new delivery trucks.

It seems the method used to get the papers to a spread out group of waiting carriers was causing problems.

"We used to drop the papers out of airplanes because Mr. Gray wanted us to to be in the racks first that afternoon," Nobles, now 81, recalled. "We used three planes -- one would fly south to Bainbridge, one went east to Tifton and the other went west to Cuthbert. We'd stuff the papers into duffle bags and the pilots would fly low and kick them out to waiting carriers below. They'd circle around and drop as many as nine bags. We did that for about four years until the paper got too big and we had a couple of incidents in a matter of weeks."

"Incidents" is putting it mildly.

"We had a plane flip and kill a pilot; then we had a bundle of papers drop through the roof of a woman's house in Poulan. That was it for me." Nobles said. "The next day I walked into Mr. Gray's office and asked for nine brand new delivery trucks. Had them within a week."

Nobles had just one job in his 51-year working career -- The Albany Herald. He began his career as a 13-year-old paperboy in 1942, then moved to the mail room after graduating from Albany High in 1947.

He spent a few years in the mail room before becoming assistant circulation manager in 1950. In 1961 he was promoted to circulation manager -- a job he held for 31 years before retiring in 1992.

James Gray died unexpectedly in Sept. of 1986 and sons Jimmy Jr. and Geoff took over operation of the Herald.

Nobles called the elder Gray one of the biggest influences in his life.

"Jimmy Gray was a unique individual, definitely one of a kind," Nobles said. "He had the best personality of anyone I've ever met. When he told you he was going to do something you could take it to the bank. He was always up front with you.

"He was a remarkable man and I still miss him."

For the next six years, Nobles dedicated himself to the goal of boosting The Herald's circulation to 50,000 subscribers.

"I promised Mr. (Geoff) Gray that I would boost circulation to 50,000 before I retired," Nobles said. "The day after the Sunday we hit 50,000, I told Mr. Gray I was going to retire, but he talked me into staying 10 more months."

In December of 1992, Nobles finally hung up his delivery bag.

In 31 years as circulation manager, Nobles second proudest achievement was taking care of his carriers.

"We'd have parties and rewards," Nobles said. "Take care of your people. That's how you keep them."

Nobles then brought up the name of J. Alton Wingate, the late chairman, president and CEO of Community Bankshares, Inc., in Cornelia.

"Alton was a carrier for me for 15 years in junior high, high school and college," Nobles said. "He went on to become a bank president in Cornelia. I'd like to think I had a little bit to do with that."

Nobles said his career boiled down to three basic things:

"Keep my payroll down, keep my carriers happy and collect that subscription money," Nobles said. "In my 31 years as circulation manager we lost a net of $500 in collectibles. We chased 'em down until we got our money."

Nobles admits he might have trouble adjusting to the Internet era of newspapering. Plus, he favors the days when newspapers were delivered in the afternoons.

Nobles and his wife, Martha, will celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary in October. The couple have three children -- Terry, Dennis and Diane.

In those 60 plus years of marriage, Nobles said their was one piece of advice from Martha he never followed.

"She would tell me not to work so many hours," he laughed.

So, would he do it all over again?

"I would do it again in the flash of a minute," Nobles answered. "It wasn't for the pay, I just enjoyed the challenge of the business.

"It was a great career."