This week, I will bid farewell to the field of journalism as I depart from my role as Editor of Washington County News and Holmes County Times-Advertiser on March 9.
Before I leave, I would like to share what I believe to be the most important lesson I have learned through the years:
Be an encourager. Encourage others. Encourage yourself.
I first ventured into journalism in 1992 as an unpaid student reporter for the Washington County News. At that time, Maurice (Moe) Pujol was Publisher; Jan Morris was Managing Editor, and Cameron Everett was Production Supervisor - a role Cameron still serves in today, for the News, as well as for Holmes County Times-Advertiser.
To a 16-year-old high school junior whose time was spent journaling her "insightful" world views, the idea of writing for an honest-to-goodness, real newspaper was the paragon of achievement.
Soon, there it was, on page 3A of the October 15, 1992 edition - right above the school lunch menu: my very first "article." Re-reading it now, more than 25 years later, I cringe with embarrassment at my youthful earnestness. However, as I cringe, I also remember that in that moment, even though I was writing a very basic school news item, teenage me thought I was embarking on a path that would change the world.
This memory serves as a reminder that 42-year-old me should not discount those little goals - for they were once a very big deal and helped me reach the larger goals along the way.
More importantly, I am reminded to pay closer attention to the "small" goals of others, especially my children. After all, the games my son creates on the user-generated gaming platform, "Roblox" could one day become a jumping platform to a career in software development. Instead of inwardly groaning when he begins yet another sentence with, "This week I made a game that…," I should take note and encourage him to keep going.
It's a cycle, you see.
The person you encourage today will remember the way it felt to have someone recognize their potential and urge them to harness it, regardless of setbacks encountered along the way. In turn, the encouraged will likely become the encourager, seizing the significance of the impact you made to inspire them to make a similar impact for others.
I find this true as I reflect on my days as an aspiring reporter, first encouraged by my parents and former editor Jan Morris and later by my Senior Honors English teacher, Carol Coleman Schimpf and the first publisher to see "that something" in me, Robert M. Williams of Georgia-based newspaper group, SouthFire.
With them in mind, I was able to reach out to my first two high school interns, Kelly (Vickers) McGuire and Andrea Heflin, while serving in my first Editor position with The Alma Times in Alma, Georgia.
Most recently, readers have enjoyed the work of Madison Jones of Bethlehem High School - who has the encouragement of BHS teacher Carrie Hayford - and Amber Knight and Nicole Donaldson of Ponce de Leon High School - who have encouragement from PDLHS coach and teacher Laurie Tinsley.
While it's hard to say where the future will lead these young ladies, I like to imagine they will one day look fondly back on these amazing teachers and the eccentric, middle-aged editor who helped publish their first bylines and draw on those memories to encourage the next generation.
At the risk of this sounding like an acceptance speech better suited to the recent 90th installment of the Academy Awards, I am blessed with the problem of not having adequate time or words to thank all my encouragers; however, I would be remiss not to mention these last few:
First, to the residents of Holmes and Washington Counties: You welcomed me home with open arms and then made me better at serving by giving valued and honest feedback on what I was doing right, as well as where I needed to improve.
Next, I need to express my appreciation for retired Roulhac Middle School English Arts teacher, Dee Bowen, who will forever be my "kindred spirit." She helped me fall in love with literature by introducing me to "Anne of Green Gables" and engaging me in long conversations about that and other works. Not long ago, she stopped by the office to tell me I had made her proud. On days I wanted to give up, I truly thought about this beloved teacher and her unwavering belief in my abilities.
As my career blossomed, my children and husband, Shane, understood that I was doing what I enjoyed while serving the communities that I loved - and as a result, forgave me for missed family events and night and weekend phrases like, "I promise, we will celebrate later" and "Just let me make one more call."
My most recent encouragers are found in the colleagues I leave behind, with the little things they do playing a large role in any success I found:
Publisher Nicole Barefield encouraged me both professionally and personally during the toughest struggles; Office Manager Brenda Taylor patiently tolerated my random, often comedic monologues; News Clerk Cathrine Lamb, learned to speak fluent Carol when I became so absent minded that I couldn't remember the word for things like "pencil"; Advertising Rep Famie Bush gave helpful reminders and allowed me to be the "voice of unreason" more than once; Production Supervisor Cameron Everett made the best coffee and always had a cheerful greeting, and my beloved Panama City News Herald "Digital Goddess," Kristy Smith never hesitated to help answer my endless questions.
And finally, I must acknowledge the best community newsroom team I've ever known, Reporter Jacqueline Bostick - who has been named Interim Editor - and Reporter Diane Robinson. They have been encouragers of each other, myself, and the community we all love.
While I know they think I've handed out some tough assignments in the past, the last truly tough one is something I've given to myself - and saying goodbye is one tough assignment.
In closing, thank you, Holmes and Washington Counties. I'll see you around.