This is a re-post of my blog post from just after Captain Herb Emory’s death on April 12, 2014. We miss him every day.
“O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;”
WSB’s Erick Erickson Tweeted these opening lines to Walt Whitman’s famous poem just a couple of hours after WSB and Metro Atlanta got punched in the gut Saturday afternoon. As many of you know, Captain Herb Emory died of a heart attack while directing traffic for a serious crash that happened in front of his house. He, the traffic reporter and community servant he was, died at the scene of a crash, trying to help people get around it. And he wasn’t your everyday Good Samaritan.
Where many people would maybe help with something that happened right in front of them, Captain Herb would be the pillar of help certainly for any number of things that he didn’t have to see. He made appearances all over town for different charitable events - runs, rides, festivals, parades, career days, fundraisers, Kiwanis clubs. He had a special place in his heart for veterans, law enforcement, the elderly, and stray animals. He did this all in his free time, in between his demanding, split-shift traffic schedule. His energy was divine and surreal.
That drive to serve the public made Captain Herb a natural for a broadcasting career. Starting as a disc jockey, he eventually became a full-time newsman, winning dozens of awards. He then transitioned to traffic and eventually, fortunately, to WSB in 1991. One thing he taught all of us on the WSB Traffic Team, above and beyond, is to serve the public. That is what this job is all about. He always told us these are the public’s airwaves and we have the privilege of being on them. He took that to heart more than anyone.
The whole idea of Triple Team Traffic was Captain Herb’s. The reason we still use police scanners as much as we do is because he insisted on it. Digging hard and calling police departments to find crashes was his idea. RED ALERTS and many of the crazy or trademark phrases we use are his. During his off hours, he still would sit around his traffic and NASCAR cave at home (named “The Tiny Lund Ballroom”), in a room abuzz with 15 scanners, and send us crashes or other things of interest he was hearing. He insisted on accuracy and never giving up on finding the cause of the delays in a given area. Almost everything this Traffic Team does to get the story right comes from a system and infrastructure that he initiated and helped build.
He was our Captain. He was my Captain. When my mom emailed him in 2004 and said I like NASCAR and broadcasting, he gave her his cell number and told her to have me call him. I was 18. I met him three days after graduating Lakeside High School and he gave me a tour of WSB. We struck up a conversation about NASCAR and how much we both loved it. He then asked if I wanted to be an intern and then took me up in the helicopter. What A-list radio or TV personality does that? Give an 18-year-old with an eyebrow ring (he didn’t know that at first) his cell number? Meet him? Offer him an internship? Really? We hit it off. I’ve been at WSB ever since, trying to live up to his standard, trying to make him proud. If there is any doubt about his generosity, I am one of many pieces of evidence of it. Half of what I own, he gave me. The other half of what I own, I bought with the money from the job he got me.
I am so lucky to have had my radio initiation, my tutelage, under such a legendary, Godly man who never saw himself as being as giant as others did. He taught me to answer every listener’s emails and to handle every call in the Traffic Center with the same care and sincerity as the next. He accepted so many seemingly menial requests for his appearances and in doing so, made every one of those people feel special. Every person he talked to, he made feel big. I looked forward to every time he answered the phone with that guttural “How ya doin, big hossy?” or “Fireball Turnbuuuuuuulllll, he’s a legeeeeeeeennnnnd!” And now I catch myself behaving with the same mannerisms and terminology. If imitation is the greatest form of flattery, then I complimented the heck out of Captain Herb.
Captain Herb Emory’s passing leaves a huge void - but maybe not where you think. As much as traffic reports are never going to be the same on WSB, the systems and ethics he laid in place will be and we will be pulling the plow (another Herb-ism I just inadvertently typed) harder than ever. The biggest hole Captain Herb’s sudden death leaves is in that community service realm. We will be scrambling to try and cover so many of the things he once did without hardly telling people. As much as he did in his life, we are going to try and do even more in honor of him after his death.
Another world that Captain Herb’s influence permeated was the racing community. Captain Herb’s racing show, which ran full-time from 1994 to 2011, used to be the best and main source that many people in Atlanta got their racing info before the internet got big. And racing used to be just as accessible as Captain Herb was and the gigantic growth of NASCAR turned off true salt-of-the-earth treasures like Captain Herb, who used to be able to hang out and pal around with the drivers. One driver who never lost that touch is 28-year-old David Ragan, who was on Captain Herb’s show since he was a kid. Ragan never forgot that and kept in touch with the Captain up until the end and always stopped by our tent on race days at Atlanta Motor Speedway. I doubt it’s a coincidence that Ragan adored the “Andy Griffith Show” and had his own replica Mayberry patrol car - just like Captain Herb. Another driver with the same instinct is Chris Cockrum, who has run handful of NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races the past few years with CaptainHerb.net on the truck’s tailgate. He did it without Captain Herb even having to pay him, as a sign of respect for all the exposure he got on the racing show. And those are two of many from the racing world who love the Captain.
If you love the Captain as they do and as we do, you can show your love in one way - serve and serve to the fullest. Two of Captain Herb’s charities that the family is asking receive donations in lieu of flowers are A Gift of Love and the Douglas County Humane Society. But find a cause of your own and put your force behind it. Do this at your job, too, as most of us have jobs that directly or indirectly serve the public. Ring that order up a little faster; dig that hole a little deeper; answer a few more calls an hour; process those requests as quick as you can; put an extra little in each scoop of ice cream. That’s what Captain Herb would have done if he had your job and that’s what he did at his. I’ve gotten this question a few times - Captain Herb was a believer. He loved Jesus and while he was not a churchgoer, he did more acts of Christ than 99% of those that sit in the pews each week. Many in church tithe the minimum of 10% of what they have - he gave darn near all he had. He was an angel on earth and now he is an angel in Heaven, flying higher, much higher, than the WSB Skycopter ever could take him. And this eternal ride won’t out of fuel.
We didn’t actually lose our captain Saturday, he just moved. And now he can see and approve of us, while from afar, but actually much closer and all at the same time.
“O’ CAPTAIN! my Captain!” from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”
“O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:
But O heart! heart! heart!
O the bleeding drops of red,
Where on the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.
O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up—for you the flag is flung—for you the bugle trills;
For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths—for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
Here Captain! dear father!
This arm beneath your head;
It is some dream that on the deck,
You’ve fallen cold and dead.
My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;
My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;
The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;
From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;
Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells!
But I, with mournful tread,
Walk the deck my Captain lies,
Fallen cold and dead.”