This is the seventh in a series of articles about recipients of the NSNC’s annual Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award.
By Dave Astor
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
The awarding of the 1999 Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award to Celestine Sibley was memorable for several reasons. She was the oldest recipient (age 85), the second female winner (after Molly Ivins) of the 1993-launched prize, and was more famous regionally than nationally for her long-running Atlanta Constitution column.
Also, Sibley was unfortunately in ill health from cancer at the time she traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, to receive the National Society of Newspaper Columnists award, and died several months later.
“You’ll never find a larger bunch of cheerful cynics than those to be met at a national gathering of newspaper columnists, but Celestine instantly stole our hearts,” recalled Bob Hill, who hosted the 1999 conference during his long tenure as a columnist for The Courier-Journal of Louisville.
“Beyond being kind, funny, and gracious, we who struggled to write three columns a week were in awe of the fact she had written books and columns for 58 years. How many Monday deadlines could that have been?”
Sibley (1914-1999) produced more than 10,000 columns and stories for the Constitution, which she joined in 1941 and continued with until a few weeks before her summer 1999 death.
In her New York Times obituary of Sibley, Felicity Barringer said the columnist wrote about “the commonplaces of Southern life in a prose as soothing as the hum of cicadas in summer.”
Sibley’s topics included her experiences choosing a Christmas tree, baking a pie, and daydreaming so much about a Civil War battle that she forgot to pay a toll. She also commented on societal issues such as civil rights.
As a reporter, Sibley covered murder trials (including that of Martin Luther King Jr. assassin James Earl Ray), the 1976 presidential race that saw the election of Georgia resident Jimmy Carter, and the Georgia General Assembly. In 2000, the Georgia House of Representatives press gallery was named in her honor.
Before joining the Constitution, Sibley worked as a reporter for the Mobile (Alabama) Press Register and Pensacola (Florida) News-Journal.
The Florida-born Sibley also authored about two dozen books (including mystery novels starring a fictional Atlanta newspaper reporter) and was friends with a certain best-selling writer you may have heard of: Margaret Mitchell of Gone With the Wind fame.
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Dave Astor writes the “Montclairvoyant” topical humor column for The Montclair (New Jersey) Times, blogs at DaveAstorOnLiterature.com, and is the author of the memoir Comic (and Column) Confessional.