By John Pierce

Rudy Hayes died on Thursday, and he was part of a dying breed: small-town newspaper editors who built trust and wielded influence. He was editor of the Americus Times-Recorder in southwest Georgia for 40 years.

The Waycross, Ga., native moved to Americus in 1949 after graduating with a journalism degree from the University of Georgia. And he stayed, serving the community in ways beyond his responsible journalism.

Rudy made an impact on education, health and historical preservation — including co-chairing a committee that led to a statue at Andersonville National Cemetery that honors all American prisoners of war.

While some older readers still like to get newsprint on their fingers each morning, the Internet is sending the daily print newspaper the way of Kodak film. Such is the cruel world of technological advancement.

But Rudy was editor at a big time in Sumter County, when a favorite son and former governor from tiny Plains had the audacity to run for president — and won. It was more than a big news day; it was big news years.

I’ll long remember the time when Rudy invited me to speak to the First Baptist Church in Americus where he was a deacon, Sunday school teacher, church clerk and more. Before the meeting he gave me a casual driving tour.

Rudy would slow his car or stop to tell me one intriguing story after another. (I later asked him to share those stories with a history society whose meeting I planned.)

He pointed to a field where a KKK rally ended with someone driving a Corvette into the crowd. With a lighter tone, he stopped at another field and told me about assembling the media covering Carter’s campaign into a softball team to take on the president and his staff.

Some will recall that President Carter was a pretty good pitcher and player.

Larry King once asked Carter for his prediction for an upcoming Super Bowl. Carter smiled and said simply, “Baseball is my sport.”

A few months later I attended a dinner at which the president scolded me for not listing his Plains church on the back of our news journal. He and Rosalynn had personally sent a check and a list of names/addresses for the group subscription. I apologized and assured him we’d correct that mistake.

Then the conversation turned to the more pleasant topic of baseball. Though not an autograph hound, I fished a baseball, that I’d caught in a recent batting practice, out of my coat pocket and asked him to sign it. I wanted a ball signed by a former president who enjoyed baseball — and a pickup softball game — as much as I.

And I loved the fact that, amid a presidential campaign, he turned to his newspaper editor friend to field the opposition. Softball games between government officials and media should be common occurrences throughout the nation.

Life is much different now in the fast-changing media world than when Rudy’s journalists and Jimmy’s political team duked it out in a softball game in rural Georgia. (I don’t recall which team won; it really didn’t matter.)

Yet the commitments to community and the steady faith that Rudy demonstrated throughout his life are still desirable and needed.

The influential 87-year life of Rudolph Lamar Hayes will be honored this Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Americus, Ga. And his good influence will linger long.

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