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John Kessler is leaving the AJC at a time when newspaper budgets are shrinking, institutional knowledge is expendable, and the traditional restaurant critic is being treated more and more like a quaint anachronism.
Between three syllables uttered on September 18, 1990, everything changed in Atlanta, and so did our city’s place in the world.
Most notable was a little-known young lawyer—a janitor’s son from Raleigh, North Carolina, who’d worked briefly in the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice before being elected. He was earnestly pushing (though getting nowhere) for the city’s first comprehensive code of ethics. His name was Bill Campbell.
“Child, what are you up to?” Instantly recognizing the voice behind me, I froze midway into shoving the crumpled dollar bill into the brown interoffice memo envelope. It was the morning of October 3, 1995. In Los Angeles, the verdict was about to be read in the O.J. Simpson trial. And on the eighth floor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Features Department, I was collecting up the office pool. As the department’s unofficial class clown/kid brother and a writer for the paper’s Peach Buzz column (the copy desk lovingly referred to me as Buzz Boy), this was in my job description. The voice behind me belonged to Celestine Sibley, a newspapering icon and state treasure. Red-faced, I explained to “ma’am” what in the hell I was doing (I never, ever called her Celestine. I had grown up reading her, after all). She toddled off and I assumed she was on her way upstairs to demand that the publisher fire me and then tie me to printing presses in the basement and use my blood to pump out the afternoon’s Extra edition. A minute later, Celestine handed me a dollar and said, “Put me down for a guilty.”