published Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

After 70 years, retirement

Lee Anderson, associate publisher and editor of the Chattanooga Free Press opinion page, will retire in April, ending a singular 70 year career at this newspaper. His retirement truly is the end of an era.

Over the decades, Anderson's relentlessly conservative viewpoint has been remarkably consistent. If he's for something, he's said so; if he's opposed to something, he makes that plain as well. He's done both unapologetically, but with an instinctive grace that is a reflection of a different day and age.

Anderson is, above all, a gentleman of the old school. He genuinely likes people. He treats those who disagree with his political and philosophical outlook with the same courtesy shown to those whose views jibe with his. Many politicians over the years, for example, have come to his office in search of an endorsement for their candidacy. In many cases, their experience was far from what was expected.

Candidates whose views varied even slightly from Anderson's exacting standards were certain that he would dismiss their candidacy out of hand after a cursory interview. The truth, they recall, was quite the opposite.

He proved generous with his time, actively engaging them in conversation. Indeed, many candidates say talk often turned from politics to other topics -- faith, family, history and community. Almost universally, those who spent time in Anderson's office emerged feeling that they'd received a fair hearing. So did those who took issue with his stands. A call of outrage almost always turned into a conversation in which Anderson and his would-be antagonist simply agreed to disagree.

Anderson's life outside the newspaper is marked by extensive service. He's served on more community boards and committees than just about anyone in Chattanooga. His involvement in his church, his capacity for friendship and his love of conversation are legendary. He's an inveterate storyteller, a historian -- of the Civil War and of Chattanooga -- and a man whose accomplishments outside the world of journalism over the years are genuinely amazing.

Anderson enthusiastically participated in Chattanooga's newspaper wars, when The Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga News-Free Press engaged in head-to-head competition for readers and advertising. Those battles ultimately led to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the paper that you read today. Anderson holds no grudges, though. Tuesday, for example, he reminded a current colleague who worked for The Chattanooga Times that the rugged competition was professional, not personal. "You are," he said, "my friend."

That's one mark of a man whose singular 70-year career in journalism will end in April. Not all Chattanoogans have seen eye-to- eye with Anderson over the years, but most will agree that his influence on the community is and will be long-lasting. That's a remarkable legacy.

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