I got into the newspaper business in early summer, 1982 in Peachtree City. Within a year I hired Judy Kilgore from her desk job at the old Fayette Sun newspaper office at 310 North Glynn St. in Fayetteville. I left that job in 1984, and she took my place at the Fayette County News, aggressively covering government and police beat stories across Fayette into the early ’90s.
A decade later, I hired her again, this time to work at The Citizen newspaper, again at 310 North Glynn Street in Fayetteville. It was a new venture, staffed with former Fayette Sun veterans. The Sun shut down in January 1993. The Citizen printed its first edition a month later.
Judy — who died of congestive heart failure June 16 at Piedmont Newnan Hospital — noted in her Facebook Life Events: ”Started new job at The Citizen Newspapers, May 21, 1993.” We worked together for the next 23 years, either across the hall or down the upstairs hall the entire time. At first, burned out from covering news, Judy served as our first graphics artist. She excelled at creating full-page car ads, and other ads that paid the freight for our “free” newspaper.
Later, she shifted to writing and editing the church pages in the paper. When a scheduled preacher missed a column deadline, she tossed one off to take its place on deadline. Along the way, she began writing genealogy columns in addition to her editing.
She was always within hollering distance until the day in 2016 when we loaded her custom low table and matching low chair into her van along with a Mac computer and moved her office to her home in Sharpsburg.
The print newspaper itself shut down two years later and the remaining staff — now in single digits — began new roles as digital-only journalists.
Judy had been a smoker since the first day I saw her, but she had to give that up sometime after her second heart attack in the early to late aughts.
I got a call from Judy as she rode in the back of an ambulance just before a weekend. “Cal, they say I’m having a heart attack, but I’ll be back to work sometime Monday.” Monday was deadline day for the paper. She missed that Monday deadline, but she came back to the office within a few days, as soon as she could escape the doctor’s notice. She called again from the back of an ambulance a few years later, again having a heart attack. “Judy, this time take a week off,” I told her.
Her work ethic was a singular phenomenon.
She was a singular stickler in another area dear to editors’ hearts: spelling and punctuation. She called herself our “staff English teacher.” I never won a grammar argument with her, and I never changed what she had corrected in copy that others produced.
At some point she requested that she move upstairs “with the boys” in Editorial. The boys loved her. She brought her poster of Javy Lopez and hung it on the wall over the top of her computer screen. She loved her Atlanta Braves. Even as heart failure eroded her mobility, she brought a portable oxygen tank to the office and got one of the “boys” to help her up the stairs with it.
Judy had some favorite churches along her way, mostly Methodist and Lutheran. I don’t recall she spent much time in or thought much about Baptist or other denominations, though she scrupulously edited news and announcements about all flavors in her job as church editor. She played the piano and organ in at least one UMC congregation for a few years. Judy’s sense of fair-play was unyielding.
I can’t think of any person I’ve worked continuously with over a longer period of time than Judy Kilgore. She was a singularity.
Judy was a tough fighter, but her heart muscle just finally wore out on June 16, 2021. In her belief system — and in mine — that period since June 16 is a time of refreshing for her. I’ll be glad to see her again.
[Cal Beverly has been editor and publisher of The Citizen since 1993.]
Here are some stories Judy wrote in recent years — you will meet her again in these columns: