Billy Carter took the proper steps to get sober but he couldn't beat cancer.
Lawrence Smith and I had taken many trips to cover the outrageous brother of the 39th president, but this one was for his funeral. Lawrence was driving and he looked like a Baptist deacon in his perfectly knotted tie and stiffly starched shirt.
As we drew near, I announced that I was shucking my tie, that it didn't seem right. Billy didn't like ties and neither did I. Lawrence flashed a disapproving glare.
Nearly 500 people came to the service, including Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter. But Jimmy wasn't presiding. Singer-songwriter Tom T. Hall was.
Tom T. said Billy had a final request: He wanted all the gentlemen to remove their ties. I looked at Lawrence and he looked at Jimmy. When the former president took off his tie so did the Ledger-Enquirer photographer.
That was 1988, and this week it was time to bury Lawrence Smith. It has been a while since we went on assignments together, but we had our share and many of our stories came out of Plains involving someone named Carter.
That's why a former president of the United States sent in a personal comment about a retired newspaper photographer. That's why a former first lady joined him in sending condolences to his family. It was more than his pictures. Jimmy and Rosalynn appreciated the friendship.
What I will never understand about Lawrence was his preoccupation with airplanes. To me, all aerial photos look alike, but Lawrence always looked for excuses to get off the ground. He would have taken a charter plane home at night if King Aviation could have found a place to land.
I didn't share his fondness of small aircraft, but I was hooked into taking two memorable jaunts with Lawrence and his chief running buddy, Allen Horne.
A flood caused by a break in a dam killed 39 people near Toccoa Falls College in 1977. Our bumpy ride and rollicking landing made me glad I didn't have breakfast. Lawrence never had a hair out of place.
We went to Bear Bryant's funeral in 1983 and our plane was locked in a holding pattern over Tuscaloosa as fog threatened to shut down the airport. We were two planes away from landing when it closed. Lawrence was not happy, though we diverted to Birmingham for the Alabama coach's burial.
Lawrence Smith wasn't around when photography went digital and newspaper photographers no longer attended the Mardi Gras Ball in company-owned tuxedos. Today, he would be a suit from Chancellor's in a room full of washable khaki pants.
But in his day, he was proud of being a dignified photographer who learned to tie a tie before he learned to walk.
-- Richard Hyatt is an independent correspondent. Reach him at email@example.com.