Goodbye to a mentor
She sat at her editor’s desk, carefully scrutinizing my résumé as I tried to stand at ease. The one-hour drive to Ellijay 33 years ago would be my second stab at trying to land a newspaper job. The first had come when I submitted my credentials – scant, since all I possessed was a bachelor of arts degree in English – to the editor at the time of the Daily Citizen-News in Dalton. Since I had neither a degree in journalism nor a writing background, a lack of response from my hometown newspaper was understandable.
However, Annetta Bunch took a chance, perhaps because there were no other applicants for the reporter’s job they’d posted in the Dalton paper’s classifieds. Her husband and partner at the Times-Courier, which they’d purchased in 1967, was George Bunch Sr. As I tried not to fidget, he stepped up and began talking to me about the future and how he hoped I’d help his son, also George, run the newspaper one day.
Taken aback since I hadn’t even landed the job, I perceived this as fortuitous. Little did I know how prophetic Big George was being, since I did indeed get to help young George eventually run the newspaper as its editor.
It was Mrs. Bunch, though, who took me under her wing and began to teach me about journalism in a small town. She didn’t have an issue with most of my copy, since I was primarily a sportswriter. But there was school board and some city council copy, and occasionally she might question why or how I reported on an issue. Although young and brash, I learned to make my point and back out when we disagreed, for she certainly held the high ground – and some Kentucky backbone, as well.
She also watched out for my welfare. As a single person in a new town, she urged me to attend church regularly. This did not appear to be a matchmaking ploy, although some of her friends had suggestions. When I called my daughter, Amy, who also worked at the Times-Courier for awhile, to tell her about Mrs. B’s passing last week, she remarked how pretty she was, even into her 90s, along with the grace and poise she exhibited. I would have to agree, and count myself blessed to have worked for her and the Bunch family.
It’s been said the right person comes into our lives at the right time, if we’re willing to accept their tutelage. Annetta Bunch – the first person I met in Ellijay – was certainly that mentor for me, and I count any successes I’ve had in journalism to her knowledge, patience and guiding hand at the beginning.
I’m glad she and Big George are together again, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re collaborating on another newspaper. Maybe they’ll hire me when I get up there.
Mark Millican is the retired news editor of the Times-Courier, and author of Wild, But True, Stories of the Outdoors. He can be reached at trail_blazer@ellijay.