ATLANTA (AP) — Dick Pettys, a longtime political reporter for The Associated Press who was a fixture at the Georgia state capitol for more than three decades and a well-respected mentor to other journalists, died Monday. He was 66.
Matt Towery, CEO of InsiderAdvantage, said Pettys died Monday evening after having a massive heart attack at the home where he retired in Clarksville, North Georgia. Towery said he received the news from Pettys’ son, Richard Pettys Jr.
“I’m heartbroken,” Towery said. “He was a fabulous guy. There was only one Dick Pettys.”
A call to the journalist’s son was not immediately returned.
Pettys covered Georgia politics from Jimmy Carter’s time as governor and aspiring presidential candidate through the end of the Democratic Party’s political control of the state and the election of Georgia’s first Republican governor since Reconstruction.
“For years, Dick was every Georgian’s eyes and ears on the state budget and those who controlled it,” said Maryann Mrowca, the AP’s assistant bureau chief for the South Atlantic Region. “Even when politicians did not like what he reported, they knew he was fair, accurate and kept the same eagle eye on all in power to make sure they were held accountable for their actions and inactions.”
Dubbed the “dean” of the Capitol press corps, Pettys was a fixture under the Gold Dome for more than 30 years. An insider with a reputation for evenhanded reporting, Pettys had the ear of everyone from governors and House speakers to low-level clerks.
Bill Shipp, a longtime political columnist and a Georgia journalism institution in his own right, knew Pettys from the beginning of his career covering politics.
“Dick over the years set the standard for the rest of us as a down-the-middle reporter who knew how to bring the news to everyone in a clear, concise and unbiased manner,” Shipp said. “He was the best there is. His profession, we journalists, will miss him.”
Joan Kirchner, now deputy chief of staff to U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., worked alongside Pettys in the AP’s Capitol office throughout the 1990s.
“He was a legendary reporter and a Georgia institution,” Kirchner said. “And he was the best mentor I could have asked for when I arrived at the Capitol wet behind the ears not knowing who to talk to or what to do.”
Sonya Ross, the AP’s Race and Ethnicity editor, covered the Georgia Legislature from 1989 to 1992 with Pettys.
“Dick was a golden person, and he was always just so respectful and so good,” she said. “I’m just really shocked. I learned so much about politics just being around him.”
A 1965 graduate of The University of Georgia, Pettys worked for the AP from 1970 to 2005.
After retiring and moving to Clarkesville, he went to work for Towery.