published Monday, April 16th, 2012

Cook: ‘The finest person I’ve ever met’

David Cook

Outside the Times Free Press on Thursday, a portion of East 11th Street was closed. Orange cones. Signs. Repair work.

It seemed fitting. As local leader after leader after leader made their way that afternoon to the second-floor newsroom to shake hands with a man who has come to symbolize Chattanooga journalism, it seemed appropriate that the road was closed.

We ought to close some roads. We ought to shut down some part of the city. How else do you mark the end of an era?

This week, the city ought to pause — and reflect — like reading the last line at the end of a very long, remarkable book.


“Lee has been one of those names,” said Hamilton County Sheriff Jim Hammond. “You say, ‘Lee’ and everyone says, ‘Anderson.”’

On April 18, 1942, 25 years before the first Super Bowl and only a few months after Pearl Harbor, Lee Anderson went to work at the Chattanooga News Free Press.

This Wednesday, 70 years to the day, he’ll retire.

“I gave him a challenge coin,” Hammond said. “We do it in law enforcement when an officer has gone beyond the call of duty. When someone is a cut above.”

Cut above doesn’t, well, cut it. Anderson is miles above. Thursday’s guest list for his retirement party represented leaders from every aspect of our region: social, political, religious, economic.

And everyone spoke about two things: his contribution to journalism.

And his character.

“Lee Anderson is a giant in the world of journalism,” said U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann. “Over the years, he has exemplified the greatest attributes of journalism. In addition, his service to this city as a civic leader and philanthropist is rarely matched.”

Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger said Anderson has influenced his life for decades.

“I started reading his work when I was a teenager,” he said. “The Free Press and Times Free Press are synonymous with Lee Anderson.”

Anderson, along with Tom Edd Wilson, are believed to be the only two Distinguished Eagle Scouts in the Chattanooga area.

“He has a way of being kind to people. He’s not a mean writer,” said Wilson, chief executive of the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. “He gets to the heart of the matter, and has the personal respect of both parties and leaders.”

After a video biography of Anderson’s life played on big screens across the newsroom, several colleagues and local leaders approached the podium, telling stories, making jokes and paying vast compliments to Anderson, seated on the front row.

“The mayor asked me to give you this key to the city,” said Councilman Jack Benson. “It will get you in every place but the Strut.”

Earlier in the day, I spoke with Dr. Andrew Exum, Anderson’s nephew.

“The irony here is that the newspaper was a family enterprise, and Lee was in the family by marriage,” he said. “Yet more than anybody else in the family, he was a true newspaper man. Lee was a newspaper man in his bones.

“He is the quintessential newspaper man.”

For the last 32 years, Linda Weaver has been Anderson’s secretary.

“From the lowest man on the totem pole to the president of the United States, he treated everybody the same,” she said.

Weaver remembers Anderson rarely firing any employee, and giving folks chances when others probably wouldn’t have. She remembers him as a constant, someone who came to work each and every day, handing out kindness and respect to everyone he encountered.

“He is the finest person I’ve ever met,” she said.

There is no place on earth like a newsroom. And for the last seven decades, Lee Anderson has been an anchor within Chattanooga newsrooms. Someone folks orbit around. His desk, with its massive Bible on the front, seemed like ballast.

“Even when the family sold the Free Press, it would have been unthinkable Lee would not have been there,” Exum said.

Still is.

Always will be.

David Cook can be reached at

about David Cook...

David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...

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timbo said...

Well, I thought I was reading about Jesus Christ.. In any event, Anderson might be the "nicest" guy around but this country has been basically ruined by "nice guys."

The problem I have with Anderson is that he was never a true conservative. Oh yeah, when it was a national or state issue he was a Johnny on the spot. He made all the right noises that would make you think that he was on the right but close to home his true colors came out.

Time after time Anderson supported the power structure on local issues or political races.I know, I know, the people in the power structure deny that it exists but we all know who and what they are.

In political races he always supported who his buddies wanted. I have three egregious examples. The first was the school board race between staunch conservative Rhonda Thurman and a liberal ex-teacher Barbara Levi. Although Anderson had known Rhonda for years and was her "friend," he supported the liberal democrat over anyway. With friends like Anderson who needs enemies.

Another example was Tim Price running against Mr. Rubber Stamp himself, Everett Fairchild. Again, conservative businessman versus liberal ex-principal.... Anderson supported the power structure liberal candidate again.

The third example is the most bizarre. It was a school board race between Gregg Juster, a staunch conservative and vice president of the Tea Party versus Debra Matthews. As you recall, Debra Matthews was the black liberal who never met a tax increase she didn't like. She supported every liberal cause known to man or beast. Anderson recommended her over a multiple business owner with impeccable conservative creditials. DEBRA MATTHEWS, give me a break.

These are only a few examples. He also supported several local tax increases because the "powers that be" wanted them.

The truth about Anderson is that he was another power structure propagandist whose true political nature was to support the candidates and issues that his buddies in the liked and whoever the power structure wanted. He was a terrible writer whose tortured grammar was like a type of journalistic waterboarding. If he hadn't married the bosses daughter he would have probably retired from the circulation department.

Just think how much different local government might look if this guy had supported local conservatives. As far as I am concerned just because he is old and been at the TFP a while is no reason to canonize him.

I have been around long enough to see what this guy really is.

April 16, 2012 at 10:22 a.m.
timbo said...

Oh, by the way, now I know how Cook got his job at the paper. He must be a relative.

April 16, 2012 at 12:34 p.m.
una61 said...

I hear a great sucking sound. Is this how one gets a raise at the TFP? Ask James Mapp or any other African-American minority what they think about Anderson.

April 16, 2012 at 4:12 p.m.
timbo said...

Mapp should be ecstatic on Anderson's local positions. He usually supported the local liberals.

April 17, 2012 at 5:36 a.m.
eblev said...

I must have missed the memo that says you must support the conservative anti-power structure (does such a thing exist?) in order to be a respectable journalist.

And I'm pretty sure "power structure" isn't an adjective.

April 17, 2012 at 6:40 a.m.
ldurham said...

Thank you Larry Ingle for a great letter on the Free Press editorial page in the Tues. 4/17 paper. Finally, someone tells it like it is about Lee Anderson.

April 17, 2012 at 8:02 a.m.
AndrewLohr said...

And who'll replace him? He leaves some awfully big shoes to fill.

April 17, 2012 at 11:40 a.m.
timbo said...

eblev...If he didn't pose as a conservative it really wouldn't matter. It is easy to take the conservative line when it really doesn't matter. The problem is that when he got the chance to support a conservative when his opinion might help get them elected he was out to lunch. How is the world do you support Debra Matthews and George Bush at the same time. He not only didn't support these candidates..he supported the most liberal he could find. That is strange. Conservatism starts at home and he failed the test miserably.

Also smart ass, this is not a formal writing exercise. Most of the time it is written in hast. If you used the same rules for Anderson he would have never been allowed on the editorial page. His writing sucked.

Also, he supported local tax increase while deriding democrats for proposing tax increases nationally. This was hypocritical. He wanted to please his high society buddies like the PEF and Ruth Holmberg.

April 17, 2012 at 3:43 p.m.
timbo said...

AndrewLohr.... How can you say that and claim to be a conservative when he never supported local conservative causes..... be consistent.

April 17, 2012 at 3:48 p.m.
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