Wallace Goodman Jr. possesses a relentless desire to leave the world a better place than he found it.
So said his wife, Dr. Debbie Goodman, and it is an apt description of Goodman, a community leader, the man in charge at Pebble Hill Plantation and former Thomasville Times-Enterprise publisher.
Goodman, Times-Enterprise publisher from January 1993 until July 1999, is Pebble Hill director, a position he assumed upon leaving the newspaper.
Goodman was born 66 years ago in Durant, Okla. His father, who served in World War I, was gassed during the Battle of the Argonne Forest. “That ultimately led to his early death,” said Goodman, whose father died when he was three.
Goodman’s mother, Evelyn, raised him and his older brother, John, an Oklahoma City, Okla., attorney.
A good newspaper has good leadership and guidance, Goodman explained.
“I have always admired the Kelly family (former Times-Enterprise owners) for their management of the Times-Enterprise and their support of the community,” Goodman said. He shares the same philosophy, so it was easy for him to step into the publisher role.
With decades of newspapering to his credit, Goodman, a journalism graduate of the University of Oklahoma, recalled highlights of his journalism career.
While publisher of the Nowata Star, a newspaper he and his wife started in Oklahoma, Union-Pacific announced it would take an old, coal-burning locomotive from Oklahoma to Lincoln, Neb. Invitations were extended to employees of newspapers along the rail line to take part in the event. An old box car was set up like a campaign train.
“You could go in the box car and wave at people as you went through the towns,” Goodman said. “It was a huge power trip!”
His most exciting newspaper experience — in late 1989 and early 1990 — came at the Enterprise, Ala., paper he headed.
A federal judge had opened a package received by mail at is Birmingham, Ala., home and been killed by a bomb that was in the parcel.
It was thought Wayne O’Ferrell, a prime suspect in the bombing, lived in Enterprise.
“Overnight, there must have been 50 to 75 FBI agents to show up in Enterprise,” Goodman said. The FBI rented office space in downtown Enterprise for headquarters.
“I saw the telephone guy putting in a slew of telephone lines at this office. We didn’t know what was going on at the time,” Goodman recalled.
The telephone employee had installed 50 phone lines for FBI agents.
As soon as the national news media learned the suspect was in Enterprise, television networks sent reporters and camera crews to the southeast Alabama town.
“But we knew the territory,” Goodman explained. Soon, an extra — Goodman’s first and last — was published containing a bounty of information about what was going on in the case and the town.
“From then on, the national news media started hanging out at the newspaper to get their nightly news,” Goodman said.
It was later learned the FBI had tapped newspaper phone lines. Said Goodman, “Our stories were so good they thought we had an inside line.”
The bombing suspect was not convicted.
Also in Enterprise, nearby Fort Rucker, home of U.S. Army aviation, was under fire about night-vision goggles, which were thought to obstruct peripheral vision. Goodman was asked to board a Huey helicopter that flew “very, very low” to illustrate how night-vision goggles helped pilots.
Soon after Goodman took the Times-Enterprise reins, the main house at Greenwood Plantation burned during predawn hours on a Saturday.
“It (the story) ran on a Sunday morning. As I remember it, the town felt like it had lost a dear friend,” Goodman explained.
The late Greg Bryant, then-Times-Enterprise photographer, took an award-winning photograph of the fireball above the house. Goodman said the photograph is the most impressive he has seen in his association with newspapers.
According to Goodman’s wife, “Life is never boring when you are married to a newspaperman, and the phone never quits ringing. Of the 33 years Wallace and I have been married, for 18 years he served as a publisher of newspapers in Oklahoma, Maine, Alabama and Georgia. No matter the town, our lives have been always been exciting,” Dr. Goodman said.
The couple witnessed and supported troops being deployed at Fort Rucker, visited Lt. Gen. Ellis “Don” Parker, director of the army staff, at The Pentagon the day Desert Storm began and saw Thomasville’s National Guard 1230th Transportation Unit troops deployed to Afghanistan.
The Goodmans’ experiences range from viewing Halley’s Comet to seeing a big ladder truck leave a fire station in an obvious emergency run and following it to learn the vehicle’s destination. They have watched citizens turn out for “Moonlight Madness” sales and delivered newspapers to subscribers who missed their papers and attended thousands of events to support organizations or causes or to get the perfect photograph to help the newsroom capture and print a piece of history.
“We have been there,” Dr. Goodman, vice president of institutional effectiveness at Southwest Georgia Technical College, recalled.
“Communities, organizations and the Pebble Hill Foundation have benefited greatly from his (Mr. Goodman’s) love and commitment to historic preservation, his knowledge and experience in journalism, marketing and management, and his relentless desire to leave the world a better place than he found it,” she said.
Today’s Times-Enterprise publisher, Norman Bankston, described Goodman as “a great publisher, but an even better person.”
Goodman gave Bankston his first newspaper management job at the Enterprise paper.
“He taught me a lot about the fundamentals of newspapers, especially in a small town,” Bankston said.
From Goodman, Bankston learned not only how to treat customers, but how to treat employees.
“I have one bone to pick with Wallace,” Bankston said. “He left me in Enterprise, Ala. He later brought me to Thomasville. Had he not, I would not be in this great community.”
Goodman has held many leadership roles in the community. He chaired Salvation Army, Boys & Girls Club and Thomasville Cultural Center boards and served as Rotary president, among other positions — and he is not through.
He serves on Archbold Memorial Hospital and Archbold Medical Center boards of trustees and in 2015, will chair the John D. Archbold Hospital Board of Trustees.
About his hospital service, Goodman said, “You’re working with people saving lives and getting people well as cost-effectively as possible, but providing needed services. I’ve never left a meeting at the hospital that I did not think my time was well-used.”
When asked about his thoughts on newspapers today, Goodman said newspapers have two things to sell: advertising and news. The Internet plays a huge role in newspapers today, he added.
Pebble Hill requires employees to retire at 70, but the Goodmans, who live on the plantation, are not going anywhere.
"We will stay in Thomasville and purchase a home in town,” Goodman said.
In discussing the many varied facets of his life, Goodman recalled the saying about a woman being behind every successful man.
“Debbie has always been a step or two ahead of me,” he explained.
EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of a celebration of the Times-Enterprise’s 125th year, this is the 12th in a year-long series of Sunday stories about important people, places and things in the area. The next one will be published June 29.
Senior reporter Patti Dozier can be reached at (229) 226-2400, ext. 1820.