When he regained his composure, he said, “That is like the cobra working with the mongoose.” I’m not sure whom he deemed the cobra and whom the mongoose, but, in truth, he was pretty much on target.
Shipp, a Marietta native, was the longtime political editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and a top-notch investigative reporter. There were a number of years when the six most dreaded words in the English language were, “Bill Shipp is on the phone.” He was like a bloodhound. When Shipp got on the scent of a story, he was hard to shake. A lack of modesty compels me to say that I was pretty hard to corner.
Bill Shipp left the paper in the late ’80s to start a weekly newsletter that was a must-read among politicians and business people as well as to write his own syndicated newspaper column that appeared in a number of papers around the state, with the Marietta Daily Journal as the flagship. But our sparring sessions were far from over.
When I moved from the corporate world to the Three Ring Circus that was the Olympics, Shipp devoted a major part of his weekly newsletter to the Atlanta Committee’s efforts to get the city ready for the 1996 Olympic Games. And I still heard those six dreaded words that Shipp was on the other line, eager and ready to grill me about some juicy rumor he had picked up that day.
As I mentioned previously, I accidentally backed into a career as a newspaper columnist when I wrote a guest editorial, savaging the city of Atlanta’s abysmal performance during the Olympic Games. This led to future opportunities to vent. As my screeds began to gain traction, a mutual friend suggested Bill Shipp might be interested in syndicating my column.
Bill Shipp? The guy responsible for the nervous tic in my eye every time the phone rang? He was, and he did, and thus the cobra and the mongoose morphed into columnist colleagues. Frankly, it was nice to be able to hear “Bill Shipp is on the line” and not hyperventilate.
A few years ago, Shipp decided to give up the grind of a weekly column along with his newsletter and his regular appearances on the popular “The Georgia Gang,” a weekly televised discussion of current events, but his reputation as one of the best to ever come down the journalistic pike remains as stellar as ever.
This Tuesday, the good folks at the Vinings Bank are honoring Bill Shipp on his 80th birthday. To show you what kind of impact the man has had on our state, Joe Daniell, the bank’s executive vice president and organizer of the fete, tells me attendees will include former governors and first ladies, media executives, business people, reporters, mayors, judges and one cobra (or mongoose. Take your pick.)
Most of those in attendance have experienced at one time or the other a well-placed barb or two — or more — from Shipp. But, whether we enjoyed it or not — and at the time it was an honor we could have done without — we knew he was just doing his job. And he did it superbly.
I have learned a lot from Bill Shipp. When we were on opposite sides of the fence, I learned to shoot straight with him even when my management would have preferred me not to do so. I learned that if I did, he would give me the benefit of the doubt because I had earned his trust and respect.
Unlike some in the business, he kept his word, too.
When I joined forces with him, I learned not to adhere to one particular ideology where readers know your predictable bias before they have finished the first paragraph. Shipp was tough on Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives alike. He was never a cheerleader for any politician or any political persuasion. He thought you had sense enough to make up your own minds.
I plan to be at the festivities Tuesday and watch a bunch of important people heap plaudits on him. He’ll probably be embarrassed by the whole thing, but that’s what he gets for having influenced so many lives over so many years. I will particularly enjoy the day because I am pretty sure no one will come up during the luncheon and whisper in my ear, “Bill Shipp is on the line.”
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at email@example.com or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.