Coming back ?home' to Georgia - Kathy Jefcoats

Back in Georgia. I said that so many times during the 14 months I worked at the daily newspaper in Aiken, S.C., that my co-workers started shouting out "B.I.G." whenever I began telling a story about "where I used to work." It is funny to me, too, because I am a St. Louis native who lived most of my life in Georgia n first Macon, then Carrollton n but never thought of Georgia as "home."

Until I moved to South Carolina. Aiken is beautiful, green and rural without being countrified. There are lots of horses, golf courses and one-way streets. Oh, and until June, Strom Thurmond. Having lived next door in Georgia, I was vaguely aware of a Strom Thurmond but I had no idea until I moved to Aiken that that is where his home is.

Believe me, I found out in a hurry.

When I moved there in November 2002, he had already announced his retirement from politics and the paper I was working for was in the process of writing a ton of stories about him, interviewing anyone who had any sort of contact with him at all during the years. I interviewed his longtime secretary who was closing up the Aiken office where he reigned supreme for most of his life.

Being an outsider, it was easy for me to make jokes about 'ole Strom but I found it was not wise to do so. People in Aiken and neighboring Edgefield counties take Strom's years of public service seriously. His name was breathed in reverent tones, with the speaker sometimes looking heavenward even before he died.

I never met Strom, as everyone calls him, but I did meet and interview his son, Strom Jr., who is U.S. Attorney for the state of South Carolina. Everyone knows he got the job courtesy of his dad but he is doing a good job. He is smart and well-educated.

The first interview he gave after taking office was with me. I drove to Columbia and spent some time with him. From the day we set the interview to the day of, Trent Lott made the comments about Strom that caused such a flurry n and Lott's resignation. Strom Jr. asked that I not talk about the incident and I agreed. It served no purpose at that point.

After that first interview, which I still think is one of the best I did while on staff there, Strom Jr. always took my calls and provided me with whatever information I needed. He lives in Aiken with his wife and has no plans to leave.

Then Strom died. His funeral was in Columbia but he was buried in his hometown of Edgefield, an event that I covered. It was raining and I remember seeing mounds of colored umbrellas as townfolk turned out to say goodbye to their great man. I made the rounds, talking to people. Literally everyone had a story to tell about him n all positive. I also remember being aware of the fact I was covering an historical event.

I must say that anyone who knew him "knew" of his bi-racial daughter. In Aiken and Edgefield, it was an open secret that no one talked about out of respect for Strom and what he could do for them. It was not news to them when she came forward last month.

So I am back in Georgia once again, covering cops and courts in Henry County for the Daily Herald. My first day was Jan. 5 and I am excited about being B.I.G. Most of my family and my in-laws are here. My former co-workers don't have to hear any more Georgia stories but they were mindful of where I was headed and the stories ahead for my new co-workers. On my last day, they took me to lunch and gave me gifts. My favorite is a pen. Engraved on it: Back in S.C.

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