For an all-too-brief duration in the 1970s Charles Salter wrote an Atlanta Journal column called “The Georgia Rambler.”
His technique included an improvisational boldness where he’d stroll cold turkey into a small town, general store, farm or barbershop and somehow emerge with a column.
Sometimes he excavated gems no imagination could polish brighter, like the time he found a retired blues singer from Griffin who’d known Al Capone and thought him one of the sweetest people she’d known despite his “unfortunate mistakes.”
His son Chuck Salter believes his father’s “Rambler” columns translated for Atlantans, many of whom moved in from other states, what the rest of Georgia was like.
The “Rambler” ran from 1976 to 1980, but before and after, for 31 years, Salter performed nearly every job a 20th century newspaper could offer. He was a photographer, photo editor, makeup editor, copy editor, obit writer and local news reporter. But mostly, said his longtime friend and former AJC staffer Bill “Doc” Whitley, “he was always fishing.”
For nearly his entire career, Salter wrote columns, news stories and features about fishing. He wasn’t discriminate. He chronicled pros and beginners, saltwater and freshwater adventures. He’d fish alone or with celebrities like Ted Williams, Deion Sanders or a fishing “bird dog,” who was actually a duck, named Fudgey.
Salter wrote in 1998, “Some of us figured out a long time ago that God meant for folks to fish more than work because He covered nearly 70 percent of the earth with water.”
Charles Everette Salter, 85, died May 1 from complications from pulmonary fibrosis and emphysema.
He was born in south central Georgia, growing up mostly in Athens and Waycross.
Salter graduated from the University of Georgia with a journalism degree in 1955. He went to the Macon News briefly, got drafted into the Army, then returned to Macon in 1957. A year later, he married Sallye Roberts, who later became a business writer at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Salter and Doc Whitley started at the Journal when Lewis Grizzard was a 21-year-old sports layout man, and future Southern non-fiction master Paul Hemphill was a page two columnist. Legendary sports columnist Furman Bisher was there and other newspaper luminaries.
Salter, however, didn’t consider himself a big city stylist.
“He believed everyone had a story,” said Chuck, a longtime newspaper and magazine editor and writer. “He liked talking to people who’d never been interviewed. He was not precious about his writing but thought about it as oral history. He wanted to preserve the stories of the common person.”
His fishing columns in particular were full of pleasurable detail. In 1984 Salter wrote about a 61-year old woman who caught a five-pound white crappie, then nearly a world’s record, with a cane pole on a small lake next to I-16 in Macon.
“She hooked the huge fish which looked like an over inflated football about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, and it was kept overnight in a plastic bag with water in her refrigerator. The crappie was weighed Wednesday morning at K.C. Food Store in Macon, where she had bought three dozen minnows for bait.”
Nothing for Salter quite equaled that moment when the line begins quivering after a bite, although something came close in 2011, long after he retired. The NPR program, “This American Life,” ran a one-hour episode inspired by Salter’s old Rambler columns. Hosted by Ira Glass, the show produced six segments from different towns in Georgia where reporters showed up and just started talking to people.
Chuck Salter and his wife, Pulitzer Prize winner Lisa Pollak, were reporters for two of the segments. Sallye helped. It brought renewed interest in Salter’s columns. Subsequently, the publisher History Press reprinted a selection of Salter pieces entitled, “The Georgia Rambler: A Potter’s Snake, the Real Thing Recipe, a Satilla Adventure and More.”
“So much of what you see today in journalism is following events, following the story,” Chuck said. “But what Dad was doing, he was finding the story. He was going to a place from the need to understand the breadth and diversity of a region.”
Salter spent many years, in his words, as “a full time fisherman” after his 1998 retirement. For the past decade or more he also met with a “roundtable” at a Starbucks. Salter prepared the questions and topics for deliberation and, for that, said fellow roundtable denizen Darwin Womack, “we made him chairman, thereby doubling his salary, which was zero.”
“I heard somewhere,” Womack said, “that great minds talk about ideas, average minds talk about events, and small minds talk about people and gossip.”
After a pause he admitted, “Mostly we talked about people and gossip.”
Salter is survived by his wife, Sallye, their children, Suzanne Alexander (Brad) of Thomasville, Ga., Laura Braaten of Cazenovia, N.Y., and Chuck Salter (Lisa Pollak) of New York, N.Y. and six grandchildren. Salter was memorialized May 5.
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