Doing what you love to do - Kathy Jefcoats

I love my job, do you? I absolutely love being a news reporter. This is my fourth newspaper since I graduated from Macon College and I have had an interesting career. I have met interesting people and people who think they are interesting but who are not. I met Sonny Perdue when he was stumping for state senator back in the early 1990s. I met Roy Barnes when he was campaigning for some office before he ran for governor. I met Zell Miller while he was governor. That was a cool meeting. I was getting the Beacon Award from the Georgia School Boards Association for my coverage of the Jones County School System and Miller was the keynote speaker.

I decided to turn the event into a news story. Not to write that I had gotten an award but to let people know what the governor had to say about public education. He was really promoting alternative schools, which I was happy to hear. Anyway, I needed some specifics about his speech so when it was over, I went up to him and asked him about something he'd said. He walked over to the podium and handed me his typed speech, complete with his handwritten editing. I still have it.

I also met Paul Coverdell, the late U.S. senator, when he was running for office. He sent me a nice note after, which I kept along with a photo I got later from a news photographer friend just before Coverdell died suddenly.

Mac Collins is one of my favorite politicians. His birthday is two days before mine and the first year I met him, we exchanged birthday cards. He also sent me Christmas cards and signed calendars and wrote me personal notes, all of which I still have. He was never too busy to talk to me about things going on in his district.

I didn't get to personally meet Bob Dole but I took tons of photos of him when he toured a plant in Macon one of the times he ran for president.

I also snapped him during the presidential debates in Atlanta in 1988. Jesse Jackson, George Bush and Gary Hart were also there. I met Jackson, shaking his hand. I remember walking through the hotel lobby right past Elizabeth Dole, what a beauty. I was a college student then, so I was really in awe of all the famous faces around me and not as jaded as I am now.

I covered a death penalty trial at my first newspaper, The Jones County News in Gray, an incredible experience. The prosecutor was Joe Briley, a controversial district attorney for the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit who retired eight or nine years ago. His closing argument was dramatic, one I will never forget.

The second newspaper, the Times-Georgian, brought more interesting incidents. I had been there only five months when we got a call about an officer down on the highway. Interstate 20 runs through Carroll County, a heavily-traveled corridor and one rampant with illegal drug trade.

Robbie Bishop made a name for himself as a drug interdiction officer. He'd cheated death just months before during a shooting in North Carolina. Lucky to be alive, he gave a talk on his skills as a drug officer after recovering from those injuries. But his luck ran out Jan. 20, 1999, during a traffic stop along I-20.

Robbie was supposed to be off work that day but insisted in coming in that morning. He was afraid he would miss a big shipment of drugs. He made a traffic stop on a Blazer driven by Jeffrey McGee of Schenectady. Minutes later, Robbie was shot once in the head and fell over the passenger side of his patrol car where a passing motorist found him.

He was rushed, barely alive, to an Atlanta hospital where he was kept alive for family members and for organ harvesting. Within hours, he was pronounced dead and the law enforcement community lost a vital player.

McGee fled the scene but was returned in April after being caught in Toronto. He maintained his innocence for two years, telling officers that he left Robbie alive at the side of the road and even waved goodbye to him. Suddenly, weeks before his trial was to have started, McGee pleaded guilty, admitting being the man who shot and killed Robbie Bishop. He was sentenced to life without parole and immediately filed motions to withdraw his guilty plea, saying he was coerced into making it.


Kathy Jefcoats is the public safety reporter for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or kjefcoats@henryherald.com.