A visit to Paul's Bar-B-Q was the occasion for recalling the saga of Brown Dog.
This column on July 8 carried the poignant tale of Brown Dog, the large mascot to Oglethorpe Echo Editor and Publisher Ralph B. Maxwell, when he was still holding forth as a giant of Georgia journalism down the road in Lexington.
That column was occasioned by a visit this Independence Day to Paul’s Bar-B-Q (“Open Saturdays and July 4”), across the street from the Echo office. The crux of the story was that Brown Dog lived in the bushes in front of the Echo but foraged and roamed free and had his own life outside his newspaper duties. One year, Brown Dog reportedly showed up for the Fourth of July fireworks, was spooked by the noise, ran across the highway in the dark, got hit by a car and was killed. A friend called Mr. Maxwell, who came and collected the body of his dog and buried him in the backyard.
The story had a happy ending, but with just a little more applied journalism, it could have been happier.
This column reported that when Mr. Maxwell came to work the next morning, lo, there was his canine companion, in his usual place. Mr. Maxwell had buried the wrong dog. Drawn entirely from memory, it made a nice story, and it elicited the admonition to journalists, “You’ve got to know where the bodies are buried, but it is just as important to know who’s who.” It might also have added, “Go to the sources.”
Ralph Maxwell, Jr. is such a source. Ralph is the current editor and publisher of the Echo and is a worthy successor to “Pop.” Consulting him about Brown Dog would have enriched the previous column, which Ralph was kind enough to reprint in the Echo, with his own emendation.
As Ralph pointed out, Brown Dog’s peregrinations, driven by territorial imperative and the search for extra food and female companionship, frequently caused his absence for the better part of a week. Thus it was, that after he had been “buried” by Mr. Maxwell, Brown Dog was missing and presumed dead for several days, while his owner grieved. How much greater, then, the joy, when Brown Dog dragged home.
There was another element to the Brown Dog story, lightly touched previously, involving a purloined sandwich. One morning Ralph, exiting the Echo office, espied a wax-paper-wrapped sandwich, lying in the walkway. Immediately assuming that the surprise package had been dropped by Echo typesetter Elaine McGarity, who often brought her lunch, Ralph Jr. unwrapped the sandwich and ate it.
Later, at the courthouse, Ralph overheard an attorney complaining that she had apparently dropped the sandwich she brought for her lunch but that she couldn’t find it when she retraced her steps back to her car.
Returning to the Echo office, Ralph asked Elaine if she was missing a sandwich, but she said she didn’t bring lunch that day. Putting two and two together, Ralph realized that the sandwich he ate was the attorney’s and that it must have been scooped up by Brown Dog and brought back to his lair for future consumption.
Questioned for this column about that episode, Ralph exhibited the effrontery essential to a good journalist: “I don't remember much about the sandwich but that it was good, and there weren’t many places to eat in Lexington. I had no regrets about eating it, even after I figured out that Brown Dog had brought it. In fact, I think I checked around Brown Dog’s sleeping quarters near the front door for several weeks, hoping for a repeat delivery.”
Thus we have another journalistic lesson in how to milk one episode for two summer columns, which could have been devoted to the university system’s health-insurance switcheroo, the takeover of an apartment complex by an aggressive developer, the fate of a whistleblower fired by UGA for exposing her boss or the future prospects for our medical college, now that it is firmly under the control of its partner in Augusta.