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Southern Eyes

My cohort, Billy Hobbs, frequently writes about people breaking the law and being put in jail.

Last week, however, Billy found himself imprisoned.

Unlike the subjects of his news stories, Billy was not behind bars at the McDuffie Law Enforcement Center. He was simply sitting at his desk in The Mirror office. But he might as well have been locked in a pillory, or wearing a ball and chain.

Billy prides himself on being on top of breaking news. The local printers love Billy because he keeps them busy printing boxfuls of business cards that he passes out everywhere he goes.

I think he is on speed dial of every law enforcement agency in eastern and middle Georgia.

It was this relationship with officials in a town four counties away that enabled Billy to break a major news story for The Augusta Chronicle, which is owned by our parent company, Morris Communications.

For that, Billy was being recognized last Friday as The Chronicle's employee of the month.

The president of The Chronicle, and the human resource director, were coming to Thomson to bring a cake and awards for Billy.

The Mirror's publisher, Todd Rainwater, was providing lunch for all.

About 10 minutes before the celebration was to begin, it happened -- a tone on the police scanner.

A manhunt was forming, complete with dogs and the Georgia State Patrol.

Billy jumped up to go. His mind seemed to be seesawing to extremes as he weighed the options.

When Todd (who had just picked up lunch) suggested Billy contact officials and get the story later, Billy sat back in his chair. At least he was sitting "on the inside." But his breathing appeared irregular and unusually fast as he picked up his pen and took notes on the activity heard over the scanner.

The rest of us sighed with relief that our guest of honor would be in his seat when the honorers arrived.

Just as someone announced "they're here," another tone sounded over the scanner. This time, a trailer was on fire.

The ball-and-chain must've fallen free, because Billy jumped from his seat. Again, he had to be reminded that he couldn't go.

Deciding he needed his job more than pictures, Billy sat back down.

A few minutes later, we were all seated around the table, watching Billy cut his cake. As The Chronicle's President Don Bailey was giving accolades for Billy, a siren sounded outside.

Billy turned to look out the window. Todd looked at me, nodded his head toward Billy and said "that's a column." I nodded in agreement.

Maybe next month, I'll get cake.

Web posted on Thursday, November 12, 2009

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