Years passed quickly for retiring journalist
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I have had only one full-time job in my life.
It ends on Monday with my retirement after more than 43 years.
I never dreamed I would be employed at The Charleston Gazette, just two months after graduating from WVU. I had no newspaper experience except for growing up in the business -- my father was the owner and editor of The Weston Democrat.
I was 21 and had been at the Gazette less than a month when I had to make one of the most difficult decisions of my career: I was approached by my colleagues and asked to join their efforts to form a union for the newsroom employees.
On my next visit home, I discussed the situation with my parents. My father said, "That's a hard decision. I don't know what I would do in your shoes."
I realized I was an adult and had to make my own choices.
I chose to trust my co-workers and signed the card to call for an election on the union question. But before an election could be held, the already unionized production employees went on strike -- on a Friday night. I worked Saturdays.
I reluctantly crossed the picket line, the first reporter to do. Most did the same on the following Monday. A few stayed out for a couple of days.
I crossed because I believed then, as I do still, that newspapers are vitally important. I believe people make good decisions when they have complete and accurate information. And that's what good newspapers do -- inform citizens of the actions of their governments and courts, report on wrongdoing by those who are supposed to serve the citizens, and discuss issues that affect lives. I didn't want our readers to go without a daily paper, perhaps because I was concerned that they would learn to do without us.
In my first 10 years at the Gazette, I reported on mundane government meetings ranging from the school board to the municipal planning commission, even the sanitary board.
I covered the trials of politicians charged with corruption, the infamous Pot Plane crash, grisly murders and pornography cases. "Why did you have to watch those movies?" my distressed mother asked. "Couldn't they just tell the jury what was in them?"
One murder trial, in Madison, involved a jeweler and his wife who were kidnapped and kept in the trunk of a car for several days before being shot. At the end of each day of testimony, the circuit clerk let me use his office to write my story and phone it in to Gazette. I worked fast, as I was totally alone in that old courthouse after dark.
I wrote about fires, floods and snowstorms, strikes by teachers and coal miners, hostage situations, campaigns, elections and inaugurations.
One of my proudest moments was the night that then-Gov. Rockefeller filed his campaign spending report in his 1980 win against Arch Moore just minutes before the midnight deadline. I had assumed there would be a summary or a news release because the amount was expected to be astronomical.
Instead, the report was filed in several large three-ring binders. I remember being on my hands and knees in the Secretary of State's Office with other reporters as we grabbed a binder and started poring through them. It was pure luck that the first one I glanced was from my native Lewis County. I recognized names and realized the report listed expenditures to precinct captains in each precinct in the state. My knowledge of the state was extensive enough that I was able to roughly figure out how much was spent in each county. I made deadline and was only a couple hundred thousand off the total of nearly $12 million.
For the next 30 years, I had different editor titles. One day stands out. I had been city editor only a few weeks when, in the midst of the extortion trial for the former state Senate president, the feds announced that his replacement had pleaded guilty to extortion. Then we learned that the mayor had fired the popular chairman of the Sternwheel Regatta.
I was starting to run out of reporters when news broke that the band director at George Washington High School had been robbing banks on his lunch hour. That was the first of many days that my eye would begin to twitch.
As features editor for the past seven years, I have been fortunate to work with talented, creative writers to come up with interesting, informative and fun stories and projects together as a team.
I will miss them as I have missed many former colleagues and friends who have left the Gazette for other newspapers or other jobs. I have learned to say goodbye to those friends, knowing that we may not keep in touch for long, but there'll always be a bond formed from our newspaper days.
A dear high school friend and coach in Florida keeps checking on how I am doing with my approaching retirement. He dreads his, saying, "I don't know what I'd do. All I've done since age 6 is go to school."
I prefer the description of another who said that with retirement, "every day is Saturday."
I look forward to luxuriating in not waking up to an alarm clock or meeting another deadline. The sadness I have felt writing this column, looking back over so many years, is the passage of time. I guess I am fortunate that it seems to have gone by so fast.