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Storyteller delights journalist

On one of my most delightful afternoons as a journalist, I sat in a living room in Alexander City, playing combs with Kathryn Tucker Windham.

I was a first-year reporter, green and shy, and Mrs. Windham held my attention for hours, sharing with me tales of her early life in newspapers. She was doing one of her readings in town the next day and staying with her great friend Jack Coley, a favorite son of Alex City.

Windham, who died Sunday at the age of 93, had been a writer — or, more important, a storyteller, her entire life. But the woman best known for writing about “13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey” began that professional writing life in newspapers.

And as a young woman, she faced tests every day, particularly on the police beat. Gruff officers not used to a female reporter worked hard to deter her — but Windham held firm.

She covered her first  cases — perhaps most notably the gruesome murder of a young girl — with the toughness of a veteran reporter and the tenderness of a woman. The police officers were impressed, and she was welcomed into the fold.

Windham shared her perspective with me, along with funny stories about her the unique people she met on her beat — such as prostitutes and vagrants. I imagine she treated them the same way she treated everyone in her life, with graciousness.

At the end of our interview, Windham called on Jack Coley to bring her a set of combs and some pieces of tissue paper, and we made music in his living room, a favorite activity of hers at many of her readings.

A week after my story — which likely wasn’t very good — ran in The Alexander City Outlook, Mrs. Windham sent me a hand-written note thanking me for my coverage and my time. I was thrilled — and felt I owed her my thanks for an afternoon of fun and inspiration.

I heard her speak twice more in my career and was entertained both times, but nothing again matched that afternoon in Alex City, when Kathryn Tucker Windham made me proud to be a woman who tells stories.

I’m certain she’s met Jeffrey — and Jack Coley — at the pearly gates, and she’s still entertaining everyone with her stories.

Kerry Whipple Bean is publisher of The Brewton Standard and The Atmore Advance. She can be reached at 867-4876, 368-2123 or by e-mail at kerry.bean