Neely Young: Larger Than Life

Ed Lightsey was larger than life. That is a well-worn phrase, but in this case the saying is very much true.

Ed was Georgia Trend’s senior correspondent for more than two decades, and our readers have enjoyed the 500-plus stories he wrote for us over the years.

Ed passed away in February at age 69. He was enjoying a few beers at his favorite restaurant and bar, telling some stories with his friends, when all of a sudden he placed his head on the table and didn’t wake up.

When Ed walked into a room, he filled up the space with his giant personality. He reminded me of Santa Claus, because he was always full of good cheer and always had a wide smile on his face. You could almost see him shouting, “Ho, Ho, Ho!” as he came in and greeted everyone.

And he was a great storyteller. He could entertain for hours on end by telling of his experiences as a writer, television anchorman, auctioneer, disc jockey, public speaker, soldier and staff person to some famous politicians. He was campaign manager for U.S. Congressman Charles Hatcher and administrative assistant to Georgia Speaker of the House Tom Murphy. In his early years, Ed was even a driver for Marvin Griffin, the colorful former governor of Georgia. 

When I met Ed some 16 years ago, he told me his first job was for my cousin Tenney Griffin, editor and publisher of Ed’s hometown newspaper, The Valdosta Daily Times. He recalled: “One day Tenney fired me as a reporter, but turned around in the next sentence and hired me as his driver. Tenney taught me everything I know about journalism.” I liked him instantly.

Ed Lightsey had that effect on everyone he met, and he knew almost every person of importance in the state. He won numerous writing awards for our magazine, and his writing style pleased every reader.

One judge’s comment for a national award from The Alliance of Area Business Publications stated, “Lightsey’s story on Home Depot’s owner, Bernie Marcus, was outstanding because he focused on the man, not the company. And that made a routine story not just interesting, but fascinating.”

One of the problems I had with Ed had to do with Georgia Trend’s monthly Area Focuses: Everyone wanted him to write their story. I would have to explain to people that two stories a month was all he could produce. I saw many a long face when I had to turn them down.

The Coastal College of Georgia’s former president Valerie Hepburn, who was a longtime friend, laments that the death of Ed Lightsey is the end of an era. “He knew so many people in politics over the years, and that kind of institutional knowledge can never be replaced.”

Another friend, Woody Woodside, president of the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce, tells a story about how Ed one-upped him when Woody was campaign chair for Bo Ginn’s gubernatorial race in 1982.

“I had ordered a lot of campaign signs for Bo, and when I went to pick them up I was met at the door by Lightsey. I looked in and found that all the 1,000 signs I ordered had the name Charles Hatcher on them. ‘What happened to my Bo Ginn signs?’ I asked. Lightsey replied with a grin: ‘Sorry, Woody, I got to the sign painter first!’”

Ed was such a tremendous asset to us at Georgia Trend, always willing to help others.

He will be missed by me and all the staff at our magazine – and, of course, our readers. I feel sure that Ed resides in heaven today, sharing his stories of past dealings with governors, senators, even a president. Perhaps one day he will use his storytelling gift to help someone like me squeeze through those pearly gates.

In memory of Ed Lightsey, donations may be made to the Flint RiverQuarium or the Albany Humane Society, two organizations Ed supported.

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