2008 photo by Thomas James
I love Ted Turner. I’ve never shaken hands with him, but I’ve been in the same room with him numerous times. We even share the same birthday. Two years ago he celebrated his birthday with his family at a table immediately next to my table and my family. Couldn’t help but notice how well they all got along, as did we.
Of the many things I love about Ted, his genius for starting new broadcast concepts is high on my list. Making Channel 17 WTBS the first national cable SuperStation allowed me to watch the Atlanta Braves while I lived in small towns throughout the South. His founding of CNN allowed this news junkie a 24-hour-a-day fix. I love his personal and substantial financial commitment to the environment, to the United Nations, to bringing back the American Buffalo, an indigenous mammal that we almost hunted to extinction.
But what I really appreciate is his ability to say anything at anytime. They say the worst speechwriting job in America is to be Ted’s writer. He never follows a script, but follows his own wacky mind. I’ve seen him speak a number of times and he’s always entertaining. It’s like watching a car race … you just know there’s going to be a wreck at some point.
I remember being stuck on the floor of London’s Gatwick Airport in 1978 for five days during an air controller strike. We read all the books and magazines our group had, so someone bought a Playboy magazine and there was a wonderful rambling interview with Ted. He had won yachting’s America’s Cup and the writer asked Ted if he wanted to be President. Sure, he said, he’d love to be, “but I think I’d probably have to be Senator first.” Yep.
Yesterday, I hosted a table of clients to see Ted speak to the Atlanta Press Club. I bought my guests an autographed copy of his new book, “Call Me Ted.” But what I really treated them to was another wacky trip through his mind as he answered the audience’s questions. Within the first few minutes of his remarks, moderator and former CNN President Tom Johnson was jumping to his feet, offering apologies to luncheon sponsor General Motors, who Ted had just accused along with the other big two Detroit automakers of driving their companies into the ground, in total disregard of the commanding environmental, energy and economic trends that had been buffeting them for 30 years.
“I’ve been driving small cars like Toyotas since 1978, when Jimmy Carter was president and we had an energy crisis then … I’ve been driving a Toyota (hybrid) Prius for eight years,” Ted heaped on a few minutes later.
Talking about the economy, he said he was on the cover of Time Magazine as its Man of the year, but then was let go a year and a half before his contract with Time Warner was completed. And he was the largest stockholder. “I’m proof that anyone can be let go. Don’t think you have job security.”
For my money, one of his more memorable lines was about the importance of being a father. He said he gave up yachting in 1981 when he was trying to balance work and family and he realized something had to go. Gone went yachting. “My definition of success is … I don’t think you can be called successful, in any phase of life, if you have a dysfunctional child,” he said. Ted’s children were there. “They all have a job,” he said.
A woman seated near our table asked a question at the end. Actually, she never asked a question. She rambled on and on about how she thought this and agreed with that, so Ted interrupted her and said a few words. She persisted, finally starting to ask a question. Tom Johnson was trying to take back control of the program. The woman got five, maybe six words of her question out when Ted interrupted her. “No, you’re done!” he said. The woman sat down and the audience applauded gratefully.