Hatcher set off to enjoy some well-deserved leisure time at the beginning of this year. It never occurred to me that I would ever write this column – mainly because it never occurred to me that a day would come when we were publishing newspapers without Hatcher Hurd.
I have always believed that Hatcher was one of the most experienced and insightful government reporters in Georgia if not the Southeast. He probably attended close to 2,000 city council meetings if you include the number of weeks he covered more than one city’s meeting or included council workshops. He also covered Fulton County Commission meetings as well – always in the front row, always listening to every word.
Commissioners and city council members knew that when he was in the audience they could expect questions that cut to the chase. They knew that he knew, and week in and week out he was there holding them accountable.
He could pick up the phone and get the ear of almost any government official in greater Atlanta. They all returned his calls. They all knew they would get a fair shake when they sat down with him for an interview – except for possibly Tom Price who walked out of an interview with Hatcher and me several years ago when we dared to question his stance on immigration.
Not a year went by that he was not asked to moderate election debates, sit on charity boards, cover the quilt guild, or in some years, play a host role in Alpharetta’s Old Soldier’s Day Parade. He never said no and always had a soft spot in his heart for anyone who was down on his or her luck or any organization making our world a little better. He always showed up.
I’m not sure how many realize how rare that was – to have a local reporter/editor that cared that much and walked the way that Hatcher did with integrity, honesty, and truth.
I never saw him angry with a person, but more than once I saw steam coming off his face with righteous indignation when he encountered deceit, collusion or outright dishonorable behavior.
It was never about him; it was always about what was “right” and what was “just.”
It was hard to watch when the public occasionally accused Hatcher of bias or some form of subjective reporting. Most of the time it would come from someone with a pre-conceived notion of reporters and journalism in general and would involve a story that shed light on something they did not want to be seen. If he didn’t sugarcoat the story in their favor, or if he included inconvenient but relevant facts, he was biased and “out to get them.”
Last year I even heard a city council member actually accuse Hatcher of writing “fake news.” All I could think of was how can anyone say that, when Hatcher and reporters and editors like Hatcher are still the heart and soul of journalism? How can anyone who has read our papers over any length of time possibly believe that all the press, or even most of it, is “fake news” when you have right in front of you for all this time, a reporter/editor who day after day has written only one thing – the truth – to the absolute best of his ability.
What the “fake-newsers” don’t get is that Hatcher – and really most reporters – have one core fundamental asset and that is their objectivity and their credibility. They know that compromising either one is as toxic and career-ending as it would be for a long distance hiker or marathoner to pour out his water supply.
Not too long ago, Hatcher and I got a call to meet with Jim Cowart who built, among other things, Perimeter Mall and also donated the land for the YMCA in Dunwoody. Cowart, Tom Cousins and John Wieland were pioneers in the building industry in Georgia and pillars of the community. When we got to Jim’s office it turned out that what he really wanted to do was reminisce. Maybe he just wanted to talk with someone he knew would appreciate what he had accomplished during his life’s work.
A short time later Jim died.
The point is that Jim Cowart, Tom Cousins and John Wieland – all of whom Hatcher interviewed many times – were old-school business men. Their word was their bond, and in their circle, only people of honor, integrity and in most cases, “faith” could enter.
That’s why Jim called Hatcher, because he fit perfectly inside that circle.
I hope we will see more of Hatcher’s opinions and journalism in our papers at some point, but if we never see another word, we already know how lucky we have been. His passion for journalism and his honesty, integrity and spirit, I hope will never leave the pages of our newspapers.
September 19th, 1983 I will never forget because it was the last episode of the beloved TV series M*A*S*H. The title of that final episode and one of the last lines of the show (spoken by Hawkeye) was this: “Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen.” I can’t think of a more fitting parting salute to Hatcher. And, thank you.