CARLTON FLETCHER: Ed Lightsey was one of journalism';s true originals

OPINION: TV reporter, writer lived a compelling life to the end

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

I’ll take with me the memories To be my sunshine after the rain. It’s so hard to say goodbye …

Boyz II Men

I came to this job at the tail end of what is now a bygone era in Southwest Georgia journalism. Having worked previously at The Ocilla Star weekly and the Daily Tifton Gazette — which, it seems ironic now that I think about it, wasn’t a daily — I wasn’t prepared for the us vs. them dynamic that existed in Albany news reporting.

Us being the righteous newspaper folks — we real journalists — them being the slick — and, no question, evil — TV reporters.

It was The Herald vs. WALB at that time (both, oddly enough, owned by the same man, James H. Gray), and about the only unpardonable sin at the newspaper was to let the TV folks beat you on a story. Ocilla and Tifton didn’t prepare me for this type of competitive reporting, but I bought into it hook, line and sinker. That’s the kind of attitude that eventually seeps into your soul, and let me attest that it’s not easily exorcised.

Certainly I haven’t evolved sufficiently enough to claim purity in this new-age, we’re-all-in-this-together journalism in which the various media now — uncomfortably at times — coexist, but I do look back with feelings of misgiving because I allowed the supposed newspaper vs. TV enmity to cloud my perception of those on the other side.

In particular, Ed Lightsey.

I watched Lightsey anchor the local newscast at WALB, and I just knew this guy with the cocky good looks, the disarming smile and the booming voice had to be something of an egomaniacal jerk. When I saw him out and about in the community, always seeming to be having a better time than everyone else around him, I felt my assessment was justified.

It was after the wanderlust that permeated Lightsey’s being settled just enough for him to woo and win Marilyn Nobles — one of the most creative and fun women ever to claim Albany as her home and a woman that Lightsey told me was his “way better half” — that I actually met and talked to this man who had become such a large presence in these parts.

And after a relatively short time, after listening to just a few of his more compelling stories, I realized that I’d been wrong about Ed Lightsey. He was no TV prima dona, no entitled dilettante. This guy was a bona fide journalist who’d used his talents — and, yes, his charm — to earn the respect granted him by men of prestige and power from the business world to the halls of government up to and including the White House.

Lightsey’s stories were legend, and as his good friend Spencer Lee pointed out, they were pretty much all true. That he told them with that great narrator’s voice and a panache that came naturally to him only enhanced the tales of daring and often misadventure that Lightsey found himself in the middle of.

Lightsey admitted to me during an extensive conversation that led to a 2009 feature I wrote about his career that he felt he’d been granted something of a second chance when he recovered from a fall-induced coma that lasted seven weeks. Even at 65, an age when most people tend to coast into retirement and settle down, Lightsey said he was going to make the most of the time he had left. With Nobles and a coterie of close, like-minded friends, he did that, seeking out adventures that would have left men half his age panting in the dirt.

When Lightsey died last week — and, no, it was not ironic that he met his end from a stroke suffered at one of his favorite watering holes — Nobles decided to send him off in an appropriate manner. She and close friends hosted a farewell party at Henry’s, another of Lightsey’s regular drinking haunts. They celebrated the guest of honor’s life rather than giving in to the human nature of mourning its end.

It’s a send-off Lightsey no doubt would have loved.