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.
He died following a massive heart attack Monday afternoon at his north Georgia home just outside of Clarksville, said his son, Richard R. Pettys Jr.
Pettys covered Georgia politics from the time Jimmy Carter served as governor 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, he had the ear of everyone from governors and House speakers to low-level clerks.
His death stunned current and former leaders in Georgia politics and journalism.
"I'm very saddened. Dick was a newspaperman's newspaperman," said former Gov. Roy Barnes. "He was a fixture at the state Capitol and knew more about what was going on than anybody I knew. He was quiet but thorough."
Matt Towery, CEO of InsiderAdvantage Georgia, was Pettys' boss after Pettys retired from the AP in 2005.
"I'm heartbroken," Towery said. "He was a fabulous guy. There was only one Dick Pettys."
Bill Shipp, a longtime political columnist and a Georgia journalism institution in his own right, knew Pettys from the beginning of Pettys' 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."
Over the years, Pettys butted heads with many of those he covered. His son recalled hearing of one instance when Pettys revealed and disrupted a legislative plan to carve out a sweetheart congressional district for then-state Rep. Sam Nunn.
"In the rotunda of the Capitol, Sam Nunn comes up to dad and sticks his finger out at dad and says, 'You have nullified me.'"
Yet Nunn and other leaders knew they would get fair treatment from Pettys, the son said.
"He prided himself on being fair and balanced before fair and balanced was cool," he said.
Associated Press writer Russ Bynum in Savannah, Ga., contributed to this report.