This is the hardest column Iíve ever had to write because itís the last one Iíll likely ever write. After 35 years at the Democrat and 21 years as a weekly columnist, I have decided to retire.
I did not come to this decision lightly ó the memories that I have made involving so many of you are something Iíll treasure always. Whether it was for a column or a feature story, your willingness to share a part of your life with me was always humbling and something I never, ever, took for granted. I trust you felt I never violated this informal pact.
When I came to the paper fresh out of the University of Missouri School of Journalism in 1972, I didnít expect to stay this long. I had no family roots here, Iíd never attended a single session of the Missouri State Fair and worst of all, Iíd never heard of ó much less tasted ó a Guberburger.
A man who went out of his way to introduce himself to me shortly after I came here said Sedalia is a special town that will really grow on you if you let it. That man was the late Bill Hopkins, a former FBI agent who left the bureau to become a district insurance executive here. He lost no time in getting involved in civic affairs beginning in the 1950s and by the time we met, he was also serving as the first president of the State Fair Community College trustees.
To make a long story short (sometimes a good old-fashioned clichť still comes in handy), I ended up having two home towns: Stanberry and Sedalia.
Unlike many excellent reporters with big-city backgrounds who have come and gone during my years here, I grew up just outside a northwest Missouri town of about 1,300 people. To me, Sedalia, with a population of around 20,000, was the ďbig time.Ē I was hired as a city and county government reporter, but in the time-honored tradition of smaller newspapers, I also was a general assignment reporter. As such, I was afforded a special perspective from which to view the city as a whole by covering a wide assortment of meetings and writing about an equally diverse range of people.
It didnít take me long to discover that the small-town feeling I grew up loving was here as well, just on a bit larger, but still manageable, scale. Whatís more, it was enriched by amenities such as Kehdeís Barbecue, the Dickie-Doo Bar-B-Que, the Old Missouri Homestead restaurant, Liberty Park and Looieís clothing store on Main Street.
But mostly it was the people, all of you, past and present. There are too many to name, but you know who you are. Your stories, your insights, your reflections made me feel I had one of the best jobs in journalism. I thank you all.
Iíve also appreciated your indulgence when Iíve reflected on special days in my familyís life ó births, graduations, marriages, anniversaries and Dadís death. I even got to write about the awe I felt when listening to a recording of my unborn grandchildís fetal heartbeat captured inside a Christmas ornament. With you in mind, I always tried to look at these happenings with an eye to the larger scheme of things.
When I underwent my first brain tumor surgery in 1990 and had follow-up radiation, I wrote that Iíd had the best of both worlds: Mayo Clinic technology and Sedalia-style caring. The large number of cards, letters and prayers I received underscored this. When the tumor resurfaced in 2002, I had as much of it removed as the surgeon believed possible. I again received many cards, letters and prayers. Iím convinced these helped me recover faster than expected.
When it showed up for a third time in the fall of 2005, the doctors did not want to risk another surgery. They instead prescribed an aggressive year-long regimen of chemotherapy, which I underwent while continuing to work. Last fall, an MRI revealed the tumor was gone. But the neurologist told Pat and me that the brain remembers the trauma of being operated on twice, having radiation and being subjected to chemo, even though all four procedures were successful.
There is an accumulating residual effect, that in my case, came to a head on St. Patrickís Day weekend. In my March 18 column, I jokingly described a non-stop hiccuping siege. But I soon learned there was nothing humorous about its tell-tale implications for my health. For one thing, my typing skills have drastically eroded. (Itís taken me three days to type this final effort.) My hearing and sense of balance have also continued to deteriorate.
Finally, I want to say I wouldnít have stayed these many years had I not worked for a classy, professionally run newspaper that has served this community so well for so long.
When people Iíve written about contacted me afterward, I always asked them to do me a favor: Think of someone they know who might ďmake a good columnĒ for me and report back. Chances are, thatís how I got their name in the first place. I told them I couldnít promise anything, but always appreciated their help.
Iím now asking all of you to do the same, only now contact editor Oliver Wiest or city editor Kaye Fair.
Bill Hopkins was right. It has been a great 35 years. Thank you for sharing them with me. Iíll see you around.