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A man of courage and principle

By Walter Geiger Imagine, if you will. It is the early 1960s. You’re a successful young businessman who has already served five years on the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia. You have begun what will be a seven-term stint in the Georgia House of Representatives where you will soon become chairman of its most powerful committee. Still, you are seeking to improve yourself and attending night law school classes in Atlanta – often not returning to your home and family until the wee hours of the morning for a little sleep before starting the grind again for another day. Your hometown, like the rest of the Deep South is locked in a rhetorical – and, sometimes, physical – battle over desegregation. Many in the community are in favor of closing schools rather than integrating them as the federal government requires. You know what is right and fight for it. Using your editorial pulpit, you preach reason. Putting kids on the street – kids already inflamed with values and tempers shaped by their parents not personal experience – would lead to trouble. You argue for keeping schools open. There are threats – late night phone calls from shadowy thugs too cowardly to show their faces threatening to burn down your home around your family or put your office to the torch. You arrive in your driveway early one morning after law classes. Just as you pull in, flames erupt from a cross erected in your yard by the Ku Klux Klan. Startled, you get a fire extinguisher and put out the flames. For a few days afterwards, the sheriff escorts you to work and your kids to their respective schools. The remainder of the charred cross is dragged to the backyard where it serves as a rose trellis until it rots away to nothingness like the Klan itself. But you are not silenced. You continue to do what’s right – write what’s right. Slowly, opinions change. The voice of reason is heard. Schools remain open. Quimby Melton Jr. lived this exact experience. It was, no doubt, a trying time. But, he was a man of principle and courage. He always did what was right no matter the cost to his reputation or the bottom line of his business. He had a superb business acumen and a great mind for numbers like his father who was known to most as Major Melton but was Pop to family. Pop was a mathematical genius. He sharpened his skills by standing outside his office as trains passed, adding the numbers on the boxcars in his head. He took a secretary with an old mechanical adding machine to check his work. He was always right. This trait passed down from father to son. Once the IRS came in to do a comprehensive audit at a time when the business consisted of a daily newspaper, multiple weekly publications and a secondary printing facility. Several IRS agents spent over a week going through the books. When they finished, they owed Quimby Melton Jr. $50. Such was the man I learned my stock in trade from. I remember quaking with fear when I went before him to ask for his daughter’s hand in marriage. My fears were baseless. He welcomed me into his family. He loved me like a son. And, I loved him. He took me under his wing. He taught me much. ’Always have a couple of positive stories on your front page.’ “Don’t be so quick to call someone a SOB. You just don’t know what they are going through.’ ’Always stand when a woman enters the room.’ ’Always make time for your family.’ ’Put God and service to Him first and all other things will follow.’ I could write a book on the life lessons he imparted. I learned from the best. He is sorely missed but his lessons and legacy live on. Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette and the Pike County Journal Reporter.

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