David Lauderdale

David's World: 5 tips from the late Ken Burger



Ken Burger
Ken Burger Submitted photo

We lost one of the best writers to ever rise from the Lowcountry Tuesday night when Ken Burger died of cancer.

Burger was reared in Allendale. He wrote columns. After 40 years of making sweet music with a newspaper keyboard, he wrote three novels. “Salkehatchie Soup,” his last title, to me symbolizes the humble muck of a forgotten patch of Earth he called home.

Ken used his clear voice and community sway to save lives after he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He wrote about it. He raised money and visited the sick.

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When word spread recently that his cancer was back, and his days were numbered, a lot of writers wrote about him. I did.

My favorite line to come from Burger’s colleagues is one they say he used when leaving the press box. He claimed it was a joke in every newsroom:

“We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us.”

Three writing tips from Ken Burger gleaned from stories his colleagues recently told:

-- Write about people.

--  “I try never to hurt someone who doesn’t deserve it,” Burger gently advised his friend, Bob Gillespie.

-- “He never stopped being the one to ask questions,” Augusta Chronicle columnist Scott Michaux wrote.

Another writing tip from Ken seemed to be, Don’t sweat it.

“The writing came naturally ...” Ken wrote. That was in a blog post about his other skills in case the writing thing didn’t work out: operating a fork lift and running a floor buffer.

And then there was this tip from his Post and Courier column in Charleston. It’s in his book, “Baptized in Sweet Tea.”

“Every time I left the house, my mother used to holler out the back door for me to ‘be sweet,’ no matter where I was going.

“Those two simple words summarized my parents’ expectations for my behavior.”

He goes on to say, “Yes sir and yes ma’am were integral parts of my vocabulary. I didn’t talk back. I spoke when spoken to. I played fair. I didn’t say bad words in public. I stayed awake in church. I minded my manners at the table. And I never, ever thought of arguing with my daddy.”

He describes how he might have acted if he’d been raised somewhere else by different parents.

And he closes, “Personally, I feel sorry for people like that. I guess their mothers never told them to ‘be sweet,’ two little words that can make all the difference in life.”