NewsPub Notes

Millard Grimes Loved Newspapers and Spent His Life Among Them

Millard Grimes

Editor’s Note: This column is excerpted from Millard Grimes’ obituary, written by his son, Jim Grimes.

Millard Berry Grimes Jr. of Athens died May 3, 2022, at the age of 92, at his home, of natural causes related to his age. Grimes had a long career as a newspaper columnist, entrepreneur and author. A memorial service will be announced at a later date.

He attended the University of Georgia, where he was a member of the Chi Psi fraternity. He worked on the staff of the student newspaper, The Red & Black, and was appointed editor during his senior year. He most fondly remembered his tenure as The Red & Black’s pseudonymous gossip columnist, Roddy Ratcliff.

He graduated from UGA in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and returned to Columbus to work for the Ledger again as a copy editor. He was a member of the staff that won the 1955 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the cleanup of corruption in Phenix City, the then-notorious Alabama town just across the Chattahoochee River from Columbus.

In 1955, Grimes had become restless and, on the very day the Pulitzer Prize was announced, he resigned from the Ledger to become the editor of the Phenix Citizen, a new weekly newspaper in Phenix City that he founded with financial backing from a local banker. He left the Citizen after a few years, and after working a few jobs in West Georgia, he returned to the Ledger and began writing editorials and later a weekly editorial column. In 1963, he was promoted to editor of the Ledger’s companion morning paper, the Columbus Enquirer. He continued to gain notoriety as an opinion columnist. He deeply admired Franklin Roosevelt and steadfastly supported New Deal principles, but at the same time, he distrusted extremism in any form, and gained a reputation as an astute observer of political trends. In the 1960s, he supported the rise of the Republican Party in Georgia as a more moderate alternative to the segregationists who dominated the state Democratic Party at the time.

He often described himself as a “radical middle-of-the-roader.”

He also continued to explore other opportunities. In 1965, he was instrumental in organizing the Athens Daily News, a morning newspaper in Athens. Grimes never actually worked for the Daily News but helped hire the original staff, including his friend and colleague Glenn Vaughn as editor and teenaged sportswriter Lewis Grizzard, who would later become a famous humorist.

In 1969, Grimes finally got another chance to run a newspaper his way when he persuaded a group of investors to buy the Opelika Daily News, a small newspaper in Opelika, AL. Grimes took over the paper and moved with his family to Opelika. He soon changed the name to the Opelika-Auburn News, added a Sunday morning edition and vastly increased the circulation of the paper. In 1977, the newspaper sold to the Thomson Newspaper Group for eight times the original investment.

From that point, Grimes continued to acquire small-town newspapers, improve them and then eventually resell them. Between 1973 and 2013, he published, owned or partly owned more than 40 newspapers in Georgia and Alabama, including, but not limited to, the Clayton News/Daily, the Henry Herald, the Rockdale Citizen, the Enterprise Ledger, the Athens Observer, the Manchester Star-Mercury and the Meriwether Vindicator.

After acquiring the Athens Observer in 1986, Grimes and his wife Charlotte moved to Athens in 1989, building the house he lived in until his death.

He was chief writer and editor of The Last Linotype: the Story of Georgia and Its Newspapers Since World War II, a book published by Mercer University Press in 1985. He also served as the president of the Georgia Press Association in 1986 and the Alabama Press Association in the early 1970s. 

In 1990, he acquired two statewide magazines, Georgia Journal, which focused on history and culture, and the business magazine Georgia Trend. Trend has changed hands several times since then but is still being published.

In 1999, Grimes provided funding for the Millard B. Grimes Laboratory for Excellence in Print Journalism at UGA’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. During the Grady School’s 100th Anniversary, he was named one of its top 50 graduates.

In 2011, he sold the last of his regular newspaper holdings, the Star-Mercury Group based in Manchester, GA, and seemed bound for retirement at the age of 81, but a few months later, he embarked on another adventure, founding Buford Weekly Illustrated, a newspaper to serve the Atlanta suburban town of Buford, although it did not long survive in the new economy of the 2010s.He then set himself to write a novel, completing The Last New Dealer—a political fantasy set during the 1992 presidential primaries—just after his 88th birthday. The Last New Dealer was published by Page Publishing Company in 2020.