I first met Dick Pettys in the summer of 1973 when I was barely out of college and employed by the Marietta Daily Journal. I dropped by the capitol to be introduced to him as one of the reporters I’d be working alongside during the next Legislative session.
Dick was a 27-year-old newsman who had been covering the capitol for the AP for a couple of years. He was a skinny guy then, with long dark hair and a “Frito Bandito” mustache that made him look like a Colombian drug lord. Lester Maddox, the right-wing segregationist governor, once referred to him as a “long-haired devil.”
Way back then, Dick had an intensity, a determination to cover everything that was happening at the state capitol. Those were qualities he retained until his retirement from the AP in 2005 and his final retirement from daily reporting in 2009. He specialized in covering conference committees as they finalized the state budget in the closing days of a session – I would bet he knew more about how the budget operated than most of the lawmakers he wrote about.
As others have noted in their accounts of him, Dick was always eminently fair in his reporting and, in true AP style, always tried to give all sides in a story their chance to have their say.
He also destroyed the popular stereotype that all reporters are liberal Democrats. Although he was careful not to let it show in his writing, Dick was a conservative Republican who watched Fox News, hated Jimmy Carter and would have voted for Mitt Romney in the upcoming presidential election. Liberal media? Not him.
When we would be sitting the House press gallery watching the lower chamber at work, Dick would occasionally turn to me and say, “Tom, have I ever told you how Jimmy Carter was the worst governor ever?” I always laughed, but Dick really meant what he was saying.
It didn’t surprise me when I heard that Dick died of a heart attack this week. He had struggled with weight issues over the years and had been fitted with a pacemaker some time ago.
He and his wife had spent years planning and building a retirement home in the North Georgia woods of Habersham County, but Dick only had the chance to live there a couple of years before his untimely death at 66. He was a good friend who deserved a much longer retirement than that.