Romona's Last Day

Romona Edge, one of the most recognizable and beloved faces in Itawamba County, retired from her longtime position as MSU-Itawamba Extension Service County Coordinator, Friday. Through her position, Edge has been involved in countless community-focused programs and organizations.

“Three more minutes,” said Marie Rogers, who as of this week is the new county coordinator for the MSU-Itawamba Extension Service, at approximately 4:57 p.m. last Friday afternoon.

Romona Edge, who as of this week is the former county coordinator of the MSU-Itawamba Extension Service, balked.

“Oh, don’t say that,” she said, her trademark southern accent (”country,” as she called it) filling the spacious workroom inside the extension service offices. “We’ve cried enough.”

It had been a strange week for Edge who, after 24 years, retired from the local extension service at the end of last week. She spent her last day in a decidedly nondescript sort of way. There was no fanfare. No party. Rogers did make her a cake. Edge said she received a few phone calls from people surprised by the news of her retirement, which wasn’t common knowledge until reported on the front page of last week’s Itawamba County Times. She went out to eat.

It might as well have been any other Friday. That’s kind of the way Edge wanted it.

“It is weird,” Edge said. The statement was framed in the tone of a question, as if she weren’t quite certain of its reality. In truth, she probably wasn’t.

“It just hasn’t sunk in to me yet,” she said. “I guess I haven’t really thought about it. Maybe because I didn’t want to.”

Chances are, she shares her feelings with a majority of Itawamba County. Although it’s unlikely Edge will be remembered as one of the county’s history-makers, it’s hard to overestimate just how much she’s loved around these parts. She’s been a member of countless local organizations and groups and has, both through and outside of her work, spearheaded or been a part of hundreds of community-focused events. She’s one of those people every one, even non-Itawambians, seems to know.

Likely, that’s why she didn’t want word of her retirement going around before she was truly ready to deal with it. She knew the words of encouragement … the calls from people offering their love and support, and their disappointment that she would be leaving … would make an already-difficult situation even more so.

Of course, she claimed she just hadn’t decided whether or not she actually wanted to retire until the last minute.

“I really hadn’t just made my mind up about it,” she said. Which, as most anybody who ever had an appointment with her will realize, makes perfect sense. Edge lives in a world exactly like our own, only five minutes later.

Although it may be difficult imagining her in a different role at this point, Edge actually had a career as a nurse at Parkwood Hospital in Olive Branch for 14 years during the late 70s to early 90s. But her career path changed in 1992, when she spotted an ad in The Itawamba County Times seeking a rural health educator to cover a five-county area. Prior to pivoting to nursing, Edge planned to be an educator. This position seemed to combine the two interests. She called and got the job.

According to Edge, her job was to form coalitions in the five-county area she covered and work on each community’s health-related needs. Although she had an office in Verona, she didn’t spend much time there.

“Whatever the needs of the community were, we would work on project [to cover] them,” she said. “I was on the road a bunch. I could tell you every little gift shop from here to yonder.”

Later, she was offered a position as Home Economist covering Prentiss and Itawamba Counties, a job she accepted with some trepidation.

“I don’t cook. I don’t sew,” she told her would-be boss. He assured her it wouldn’t be an issue.

So, she decided she’d focus her own energies on the health and nutrition related aspects of her position and turn to volunteers to help with home ec subjects.

Eventually, the scope of her position was narrowed to just Itawamba County.

Looking back over the decades, Edge said she’s happy with many of the programs the extension service has hosted under her leadership. There have been a few duds (”We’ve had some programs that no one showed up for,” she said with a rolling, earnest laugh), but Edge’s esteem throughout Itawamba County is a testament to the work she’s done.

“I hope the extension service here has at least touched one person’s life in Itawamba County,” she said, an almost comically modest underestimation of her own influence. It’s a goal she’s reached a thousand times over.

Which makes her retirement all the more bittersweet, and her desire to keep quite about equally understandable, even if folks don’t like it.

So, there was no celebration during Romona Edge’s last hour of work. No fanfare. No tearful send offs. Just a cake, a coworker and one local reporter.

It’s more than she wanted, but far less than she deserves. Twitter: @admarmr

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