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Beloved Banner-Herald sports editor Billy Harper dies

By Joe Johnson

The following was distributed by Dignity Memorial

A tribute to Billy Harper by Wyngate Downs

News came Saturday morning that we'd lost another piece of Athens. If you're reading this, you aren't one of those that roll their eyes at the mention of Facebook, and might remember when newspapers were how people got the news. Real paper, in your hands, every day. Billy Harper was one of the main reasons why so many went to the front door and opened it straight to the sports front.

Over 60 newspaper awards from the Georgia Press Association and Associated Press are a testament to the quantity and quality of his writing as Sports Editor of the Athens Daily News.

Billy Harper flying out to cover a UGA football game

Saturday morning Billy joined his wife Frances, who passed a couple weeks ago to that great restful beyond. Inseparable in life, they are now inseparable once again.

If you read Billy's columns, you knew Frances as well, and knew one could not live without the other. Billy Harper was a writer of the first degree. He spent his life observing sports in Athens and writing about it as fact, then commenting on it in his column. For almost 20 years I worked and traveled with him covering UGA sports across the Southeast. We took vans, planes, helicopters, jets, and walked untold miles getting to press boxes and playing fields. We strategized how best to cover the Dawgs and get words and photos in a printed product by a midnight printing press deadline from every part of the Southeast. Billy was a joy to work with AND I always loved his interpretation of the events we'd both witnessed. Often, the actual "story" was covered by his Asst. Editor and closest friend, Gary Jones, but Billy's "take" of what transpired was SO insightful! No flighty wordsmith was he, just a plain cut-to-the-chase, funny, brilliant sports analyst. In 2009 many of us lucky enough to have worked with Billy gathered to see him inducted into the Athens Sports Hall of Fame.

Gary Jones said at the time "Billy Harper is as straightforward and honest and caring as any human being I've ever known...and every single one of the professional journalists there that night would tell you he influenced their lives greatly as a journalistic mentor and friend" (Steve Colquitt, Charles Odum, Chip Towers, Chris Starrs, Andy Johnston, Ivan Aronin, Blake Giles, Wingate Downs, Mike Childs, Linton Johnson).Billy was a familiar sight jogging on Milledge Avenue as long as I can remember, and introduced me to the pleasures of the Peachtree Road Race, which we both ran for years and years. His "sidewinder" jogging motion was unique and more distinct as years passed, but that daily 6 mile jog didn't stop until he absolutely could do it no more! "Life's race well run", my good friend. May you and Frances enjoy eternity in that big arena in the sky!Services will be private.Bernstein Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

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