Remembering Captain Herb Emory

Gridlock Guy: The habit of community service 5 years after losing Captain Herb Emory

April 12th, 2014, changed the lives of the WSB Traffic Team, me, many of our friends and co-workers, and throngs of others in not just Atlanta, but around the country. Captain Herb Emory, our eye-in-the-sky leader and voice of reason on the roads, died suddenly of a heart attack. Emory, or Captain Herb as I will call him for the rest of this piece, left this world ten days after celebrating his 61st birthday. He got called away at the top of his game — his game being both his on-air duties and his massive community footprint.

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For those that even remotely knew Captain Herb personally, his legacy as a community servant shared equal spotlight with that of his traffic anchoring in the WSB Skycopter. His death even showcased those two talents equally. When a car wrecked in front of his Douglas County home, Captain Herb and his law enforcement buddy ran to the victims’ aid. They pulled the teens out of the wreckage and then they went to direct traffic on Burnt Hickory Road. Community service. Traffic.

As Captain Herb directed traffic, the excited combination of that, plus yard work and rescue appeared too much for his heart of gold. He collapsed in cardiac arrest, never again with the opportunity to welcome the “bluebird of happiness” on his shoulder or to lament his “aching big toe” about the traffic. Captain Herb would never again play Santa Claus on the phone on News 95.5/AM750 WSB for Atlanta’s children on Christmas Eve or MC and help organize the annual Toys for Tots drive at his favorite Fred’s BBQ House in Lithia Springs. But the collective need for those things would not die with Captain Herb. The responsibilities fell on the rest of us — including you.

As we brainstormed on an idea of a way to properly recognize the five-year anniversary of Captain Herb’s passing, Ashley Frasca from our Traffic Team had a brilliant idea. Frasca, who helps plan quite a bit of the community service that our team does, hatched “A Day of Service.” She posed the idea on the closed Facebook group page for our WSB Traffic Troopers, who are the listeners that call us with traffic info. We honor them each year with a lunch, meet and greets, swag, and a tour of our studios. They don’t need too much encouragement to serve.

» RELATED: Late Captain Herb Emory has a bridge dedicated to him

Frasca’s post prompted group member Catherine Yacola to share that she volunteers the second Saturday of every month at a cat rescue place.

This community service post spurred our other Traffic Troopers to start talking about how Captain Herb showed community service directly to them. At our annual lunches, he loved to raffle off some, well, interesting prizes that he had collected. “Colonel Chuck” said he still has the five-dollar bill Captain Herb gave him. “Eli” laughed about her raffle item.

“I still have the funny floral coffee mug he gave me that came in a hatbox. I will never get rid of it!” Maybe she can unload it in her own Dirty Santa game one day.

Captain Herb’s calendar of the last year he was alive had him down for 83 community appearances or events. 83! That’s 1.6 events per week for a Georgia Radio Hall of Famer in his 60s who worked incredibly hard in morning and afternoon drive Monday through Friday. His mantra was simple: always say yes. He would appear at little festivals, fundraisers, and community gatherings without publicity. He helped elderly, disabled, and poor people in ways that the public never knew, because he rarely mentioned it. And he didn’t do this because his boss told him to or to keep up appearances. Captain Herb went above and beyond in the community because it was his charge to pay forward his dream job.

Like I do sometimes, you may feel overwhelmed by the idea of shoe-horning public service into a busy schedule or a tight budget. But serving others manifests in many ways. Service isn’t just organizational or monetary. You can hold the door for someone, pick up a shift at work, run and grab your spouse some food, pick up the check for someone in front of you at a fast-food restaurant, or feed stray cats in your neighborhood. Service is as much a mindset as it is actions. If we think more often about other people than ourselves, the world is instantly a better place.

“Put a smile in your face, song in your heart, and a tap in your toe.” That is the line that Captain Herb opened most mornings with on WSB-TV and radio. That creed, I believe, helped him tackle his job of serving people with his reports with fervor — even on a down day. That philosophy willed Captain Herb to burn the candle at both ends in his community. Optimism and selflessness can bring all of us a second wind to better this world. And those traits, I truly believe, could make enduring Atlanta’s daily gridlock easier.

Thank you, Captain Herb Emory. You invested in your family, your city, and me. Your heart for service over six decades will be an inspiration that changes the world for years to come. You still feel alive to us.

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