ATLANTA — From Georgia’s last segregationist governor to the first Republican to hold the office since Reconstruction, Dick Pettys covered Georgia politics for The Associated Press for more than three decades. His reputation for fair and accurate reporting won him the respect of fellow journalists and the state’s most prominent politicians.
Gov. Lester Maddox, nearing the end of his term when Pettys began working for The AP at the state Capitol in 1970, called him “the long-haired devil" but continued to keep in touch with Pettys by phone long after he left office.
To the statehouse press corps, Pettys became known as “the dean," who over the course of 35 years developed a vast institutional memory and a knack for mentoring newcomers.
Pettys, 66, died Monday at his northeast Georgia home near Clarkesville. His son, Richard Pettys Jr., said he suffered a massive heart attack.
“He was an excellent reporter who got the facts right and wrote it well," former Sen. Zell Miller, who knew Pettys for decades, said Tuesday. “I’m really sorry he’s gone because he had a lot of Georgia history in his head and I kept hoping he would write a book. I had tremendous respect for him."
When Jimmy Carter ran for the White House in 1976, The AP assigned Pettys to travel with his campaign. His news stories helped introduce Americans to the peanut farmer who would become president. Decades later, in November 2002, Pettys was breaking the news that Georgians had elected Sonny Perdue their first Republican governor in more than 130 years.
Pettys retired from The AP in 2005, but spent several more years writing on Georgia politics for the website InsiderAdvantage Georgia.
“For years, Dick was every Georgian’s eyes and ears on the state budget and those who controlled it," said Maryann Mrowca, the AP’s assistant bureau chief for the South Atlantic Region. “Even when politicians did not like what he reported, they knew he was fair, accurate and kept the same eagle eye on all in power to make sure they were held accountable for their actions and inactions."
An insider with a reputation for evenhanded reporting, Pettys had the ear of everyone from governors and House speakers to low-level clerks and was respected by Democrats and Republicans alike.
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., said Tuesday he admired Pettys for upholding “the highest standards of reporting and excellence."