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Jim Barber grew up in South Georgia, helping his family raise hogs and working on his uncles’ tobacco farms while pursuing his dream to become a newspaper reporter. His first “public” job came at age sixteen, covering sports for his county newspaper, The Berrien Press. Jim spent the bulk of his newspaper career with United Press International’s Atlanta bureau before a short stint with the New York Daily News led him to transfer to the world of corporate journalism and a twenty-five-year career with Georgia Power and Southern Company, one of the nation’s largest utilities.
A state and national award winner for his writing in both phases of his career, Jim is also the author of They Made Good Great, the story of the 1969-1970 Berrien High School girls' basketball team, and Dear Pa and Ma, a history of his father's family. He also co-edited three published books: Atlanta Women Speak, a collection of speeches from notable women such as Jane Fonda, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin and author Pearl Cleage, as well as Journey of Faith and Art From Our Hearts, both church histories.
While his work on the family farms is a distant memory, Jim does enjoy raising gardens in his backyard, especially tomatoes for his wife of nearly thirty-five years. Jim doesn’t eat tomatoes, but he does play a lot of tennis and works part-time as the administrator of his church. He and Becky live in Atlanta near Stone Mountain, which he climbs faithfully almost every day. They have three daughters, two sons-in-law and a new grandson, Noah James Garcia.
I was born October 6, 1961, in Tifton, Georgia, the second son of Elmo and Marie Barber. I was a big baby, ten pounds, one and a half ounces. Mama stayed in the hospital 18 days, which I tell her is the price she paid for spending the first six months of her pregnancy less than thrilled with the idea of having a second baby. My sister, Caye, is almost seven years older than me, and Mama had grown comfortable with the idea of having an only child. Daddy always said he planned for a second one.
When I was born, we lived with my paternal grandmother, Flossie Willis Barber on her farm in Berrien County, about fifty miles north of Florida, but that was a short-lived experience for me. Shortly after the New Year in 1962, my parents bought a forty-acre farm in Clyattville, Georgia, just a few miles north of the Georgia-Florida border. Daddy was a chemist at Owens-Illinois in Clyattville and had grown weary of his hour-plus commute to work every day.
Looking back, our time at the Clyattville farm seems idyllic. I have an excellent memory (an inheritance from Mama), and can recall my first five years in Clyattville with astonishing detail. One of my favorite memories was when I went Christmas tree hunting on the farm with Daddy shortly after I turned four. It was the only time we ever did that. My least favorite memory occurred when I got tangled up in an electric fence while running away from a spanking. I should have stayed for the spanking!
In 1966, shortly before I turned five, we moved a few miles north to a beautiful house at 1000 Ridgewood Drive in Valdosta, Georgia. As the story goes, Daddy got an offer too good to pass up on the Clyattville farm, hence we traded our green acres for city lights. We lived two years in Valdosta, and it was an awesome experience. I loved riding bikes on the city streets and got introduced to trick-or-treating. My first costume was a paper bag put over my head with holes cut out for the eyes and nose!
In 1967, Daddy was transferred to Toledo, Ohio. He moved to Toledo and we were set to follow when school ended in 1968. Alas, Daddy arrived in Toledo just in time for one of the worst winters in history. He found us a house, a school for my sister and me and then promptly resigned after spending one too many mornings shoveling his car out of snow to get to work.
In the late summer of 1968, we moved back to Berrien County, just in time for me to begin first grade at West Berrien Elementary School and for my sister to start her freshman year at the county high school. Berrien County schools were still segregated when I started the first grade, but that changed the following year.
We lived in a five-room block building that had once been the lunch room for New River Elementary School, where my daddy attended as a child and later taught as an adult. Daddy bought the property in sealed auction, outbidding his rival by one dollar. The property contained eight acres, the “lunch room” and a huge wooden school building with a massive auditorium and seven classrooms. Talk about a great place to grow up! I used every inch of the school to entertain myself, even using the auditorium to teach myself how to play tennis by banging the ball against the wall in that cavernous space.
We raised hogs and corn on those eight acres, not to mention massive gardens. Daddy tried farming one year, renting my grandmother’s land, but that was more than enough for him, although we raised one of the prettiest crops of tobacco I’ve ever seen.
Beginning in the fourth grade, I spent my summers working on my maternal uncles’ farms. We spent six days a week roughly all summer gathering tobacco. Not to mention sewing tobacco beds at the end of the years, setting out the plants in late winter and spending every spring break hoeing the stuff. Every year, I used my earnings to buy new school clothes and supplies and saved the rest of it. We gathered tobacco virtually every way you can imagine—I felt like I experienced the process inside out. It got in my blood, no doubt, but my big takeaway, besides learning the value of hard work, was the knowledge that I wanted a career where I could occasionally stick my feet up on my desk and enjoy air conditioning all day long!
Jim in 1964 standing beside the family car, a Pontiac, at their farm in Clyattville, Georgia.
From the second grade on, I actually had a career plan. I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. My first love was sports, but I really only liked football, basketball and tennis. The rest of it bored me, so I chose to focus on news reporting.
I started writing for the Berrien Press, my county newspaper, when I was a junior in high school covering football and basketball games. In college, I served as editor of my junior college newspaper, where I won three state awards for my writing, and eventually graduated from the University of Georgia with a degree in journalism-newspapers. I am not sure they still offer that degree in this day and age.
My favorite job may have been my first out of college, as editor of a weekly newspaper in middle Georgia. I worked there for nine months, doing everything imaginable, from writing the stories to taking the pictures and developing the film, laying out the newspaper and even selling advertising. It was a baptism by fire, and I relished it. From there, I went to a small daily newspaper in middle Georgia, where I covered my first of three executions and traveled the highways and byways in search of what seemed like three stories a day to turn in each morning.
After just eight months on the daily newspaper job, I got a call from Joey Ledford, who was the United Press International (UPI) bureau chief in Atlanta at the time and is now the author of Speed Trap and Elkmont: The Smokey Mountain Massacre. He hired me over the telephone and thus began an incredible five-year journey working for one of the two major wire services in the country. I covered every kind of story imaginable and mostly loved every minute of the job, up until the long struggling service hit its staff with a thirty-five percent pay cut. I was married with two children (my wife stayed at home with our daughters) at the time, and that was an impossible salary cut to overcome. So for a while, I took a nighttime job delivering pizzas while holding down my day job.
In 1991, I left UPI and took a job with the New York Daily News, fulfilling my lifelong ambition to work in New York City. A few months later, I had fulfilled my dream and concluded New York was not the place I wanted to raise a family.
Around this time, I got a call from my old boss at UPI, who had left the news business for the corporate world with Atlanta-based Southern Company, one of the nation’s largest electric utilities. I was weighing a job offer from the Tampa Tribune when he told me it was time to get out of the newspaper business and join him in the corporate world. He encouraged me to apply for a job at Gulf Power Company in Pensacola, Florida. I did. They hired me, and I spent the next twenty-five years working for Gulf, Georgia Power and Southern Company. I managed internal communications for employees and also executive communications for the CEO and our executive team. It was a great job and a great career, from which I happily retired at the end of 2016.
Author Jim Barber with his family in 1994
Since retirement, I’ve kept incredibly busy. I took a part-time job as the administrator of my church, where I manage day-to-day operations and helped secure the sale of our church property in the fall of 2018.
I also returned to creative writing and renewed my efforts to publish Plowed Fields, the novel I originally finished in 1997. That project has come to fruition, and I’m now working on a family history project about the paternal side of my family as well as a new novel that was inspired by one of my favorite family photographs.
As much as I love writing, it’s not something I feel called to do every day. Somedays, I just feel like doing anything but write, and I never feel guilty about that.
When I’m not working at church or writing, I play a lot of tennis and walk up Stone Mountain most every day. I also take great delight in being married to the love of my life, Becky (since September 1, 1984), and the father of three amazing, and grown, daughters, Dana, Tyler and Carrie, not to mention one son-in-law, soon to be two, and grandpa to three grand dogs! When and if it happens, I’m sure I’ll love being a grandpa to human kids, but it’s not something I give much thought to!
One thing I do think a lot about is traveling. Growing up, my family took just two vacations. We traveled to Fernandina Beach, Florida, for a night when I was 4 and then later went to a place called Canyon Land Park in Fort Payne, Alabama, when I was in the fourth or fifth grade. I always wanted to see the world and, fortunately, married a woman who shares my passion. As parents, we made it a priority to take our kids on a grand vacation each year. We love national parks, great cities and adventures, and have been blessed to visit Europe, Southeast Asia, Hawaii, Alaska and virtually all of the continental United States. I'd be hard-pressed to name a favorite place in our travels, but do tend to be drawn to wide-open spaces. That said, New York City and London have their own charms.
So there you have it, probably more than you ever wanted to know about Jim Barber. But if you have questions, please feel free to fire away and I’ll do my best to respond on this page!
Climbing the infamous Hamburger Hill in Vietnam with my middle daughter, Tyler, in March 2017.