Twenty-one years ago, during the first week of June, I walked into 1701 City Ave. North in Ripley to start a career in journalism with the Southern Sentinel and Southern Advocate newspapers. This week, I will leave the building for the last time to embark on a new calling in education.
This week is bittersweet in so many ways. Although I know in the deepest part of my heart that moving on is the right thing to do, I can’t help but be conflicted, tormented even, about my decision to leave the job that has been my life for just a few years shy of a quarter-century. I love this paper like a child, a baby I have nurtured and developed and put my whole heart into every day and every night since I began this journey. I’m leaving my love, my calling, my life as I know it. And most importantly, I’m separating myself from my Sentinel family, who have been there for me through thick and thin, who have watched my son grow up, who have been a part of every life lesson and milestone I have faced for most of my adult life.
I am so thankful for my years here. News media is a stressful, demanding, emotional, and sometimes thankless business, but when I look back at my time at the Sentinel, I will remember all the good memories and great people I have encountered. I will remember all the friends I have made, all the mentors who have guided me, all the knowledge and experience I have gained, all the awards I have won, and all the advancement opportunities I have been given.
I have watched people grow up through the pages of the Sentinel. I feel pride when area youngsters have great accomplishments and sadness when a long-time subscriber passes away. I feel a connection with all the people we have written about over the years. Thank you all for letting us be a part of your lives. It is the people we feature on our pages that make the Sentinel great.
I have also made many connections and life-long friends over the years that I would not have met if it weren’t for the paper. I will miss them all, and I thank everyone in Benton and Tippah County who have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome. Thank you to our current and former contributors for submitting articles, photos, and content regularly. Thank you to the law enforcement officers who have made themselves available when I needed information for a crime story. Thank you to the mayors, Main Street, and the TCDF for quotes and other information about events and county development. And thank you to all the medical and emergency personnel who often keep me informed and are always willing to submit articles and other information.
The Sentinel has been a blessing, and it came into my life when I needed it most. My mother died in 1998. As a 22-year-old only child, that was utterly life-altering. I also had severe ulcerative colitis and was having problems making it to my classes at Ole Miss. In addition, I was a struggling single mother with a son who was about to start school in a year or two. I was broke and needed a job, but most of all, I needed to be home.
In January 2000, I saw an advertisement in the Sentinel seeking someone to do pagination for the paper. I applied but never heard anything back. After that, the ad kept popping up every month or so, and I kept applying. I had no idea why I was not being contacted about the position, but I knew I could do the job and do it well. When my semester ended in Oxford, I needed to move back home to Walnut, so I sent my application one last time, stating that I was ready to start working.
Finally, one day in early May, I was called to come into the paper for an interview. I walked in the front door, met the receptionist, bought a paper, and talked a minute with Barbara Steverson. Barbara then directed me to the office of the Sentinel’s publisher Brian Roy. I spoke with Brian about my background and experience and showed him my portfolio. He told me about the job (which would involve scanning and editing photos and building the pages of the paper) and said he would call me. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear back immediately.
So, I called. Brian was not in, but then, I asked to speak with my good friend and WHS Class of 1994 classmate, Timmy Watson. He wasn’t in either – but he was the next time I called. I told Timmy (more on him later) that I had applied for the job and asked if he could find out what was going on. He did. Brian called me back a day or so later, and the rest is history.
I don’t think I could ever be thankful enough to Brian for giving me that job and showing me the ropes the days, weeks, and months ahead. I will always consider Brian my first real boss, and he will always be dear to me. He prepared me well, and when he came to me a couple of years later and told me I had to finish the front page and A section of the paper because of an emergency, I was able to do it with no problems (except maybe reading Hank Wiesner’s hieroglyphics). I also learned other things from watching Brian, like filling out press reports, dummying (deciding where ads are placed) the paper, and contacting printing companies for quotes and proofs. I took on those responsibilities when Brian left the Sentinel, which led to my first promotion to production manager.
Over the years, I have served many roles at the paper, from customer service representative, classified sales, and ad designer to office manager, editorial coordinator, and now managing editor. I have been a general beat reporter, feature writer, photographer, website manager, and social media manager. I’ve planned both editorial and advertising content for special sections and have been one of the best news designers around. I have stepped up to the plate every time there was a need without ever being asked to do so. I can leave knowing that no one can ever say I was unmotivated, lazy, or irresponsible, and I am proud of that.
I could not have done all these things without all the wonderful people who have been at my side along the way. There are way too many people to mention them all. Everyone I have worked with has their own special place in my heart, but a few come to mind as I write this farewell.
I have learned so much from former editor Hank Wiesner. He taught me more than any Ole Miss journalism class ever could. Listening to him conduct over-the-phone interviews made me more inquisitive and instructed me in the ways of a seasoned journalist. He always was there to lend an ear when I needed someone to listen, and his Hankisms are true sayings to live by. Thank you, Hank, for all you have done for me.
The late Southern Advocate editor Gene “Sarge” Ladnier began influencing my career years before working with him at the paper. Sarge used to come and take photos at Walnut when I was in elementary school. He often spoke of his military career and his job as editor to students at the school. As a child, I remember thinking he was the coolest person in the world, and after I got to know him as an adult, I learned he really was. He went down many different paths in his lifetime, and I thank him for leading me down this path.
Former Publisher Richard Fry is another Renaissance man. He is extremely creative and had some of the best ideas for the paper. I learned little things about journalism style from him that I will never forget. He also pushed me to think outside the box and be myself. Thank you, Richard, for understanding me and not firing me on all those frustrating late nights working on Progress and other special sections. I’m sure my fatigue and insubordinate nature on those days deserved dismissal many times over. But you understood and always complimented my work and gave me leave to be a better designer, manager, and person.
Former advertising consultant and feature writer Jane Matthews was always interesting to work with. She lives a carefree life and never lets anything get her down. She is creative, sharp, and unique. I enjoyed listening to the anecdotes she told about her past life. Her compassion for animals is unmatched and she was always caring for a downtrodden stray she came across. Jane taught me a lot about strength, perseverance and reinvention. I thank you, Jane, for being an inspiring influence in my life.
Joyce Leggett Brock, what can I say, ‘We are BORG.’ Joyce started as an ad designer, maybe four or five years after I started working at the Sentinel. She eventually became the editor of the Advocate and then the Sentinel. We are both artists and creative kindred spirits. Thank you for all your help with ads, Christmas floats, and special projects. You made work bearable when it was overwhelming. We shared much frustration when coworkers thought we shared the same brainwave. Thanks again for being someone I could connect with who understands how my brain works.
The late Deborah Hudson Hardin was another kindred spirit. She was a wonderful, intelligent woman who understood my sarcasm and put things in perspective with her own humorous and sarcastic remarks. We shared a laugh when Shopezy put potted meat and pig feet on sale. Even after she quit the Sentinel, I would send her photos of the ads when something interesting was on sale. I miss talking to you so much, Deborah. Thank you for being you. Until we meet again...
It seems like I worked with B.J. Bullard a lot longer than I did. When she departed the Sentinel and starting working for The Peoples Bank, she still stopped by a couple of times a week to have lunch and gossip. I will never forget the time her toddler sons got locked in the conference room one Saturday morning. I think Tim was starting to panic, but all was well in the end. B.J., you are a wonderful person, and I am better off for knowing you.
There have been so many more coworkers over the years that I will never forget. Sports writers Kedrick Storey and Dillon Barnes were both very intellectual and good at what they did. Kedrick and I worked together on some great sports projects for many years. Dillon was a godsend when I became the editorial coordinator and editor. His diversity and easygoingness meant I never had to worry about the sports pages or sports content.
The lively spirit and beautiful smile that Lapeatrious “Peaches” Hoyle brought to the Sentinel cannot be matched. This young, intelligent single mother, fresh from Ole Miss, starting a career in journalism, was reminiscent of me many years before. Peaches was so refreshing to work with, and I thank her for dedicating herself to her interests and family.
In recent years, Destiny Pannell helped me with ads, pages, and social media, and I appreciate her assistance more than she knows.
Our new sports writer Hunter Givens is turning out to be another good one. He is very knowledgeable in sports and should go far. He is always willing to help in any area needed. Thanks, Hunter, for taking photos and covering board meetings and other events for me. You are a blessing.
Our salesperson Barry Cook is a smart, funny, and unique person. He is extremely caring and wants what is best for everyone. His dedication to his clients is unquestionable, and I am sure he will take that dedication to his new role as Alderman at Large in Ripley. Thank you, Barry, for being a friend. I also thank you for introducing me to the stupid yet hilarious Secretariat from the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson and making me remember the crazy antics of Toonces the Driving Cat from Saturday Night Live.
Of course, I cannot forget Jessica Davis. From classified ad sales to office manager, Jessica has been there many late nights with me over the years. Although we do not look alike, people often get us confused, and the people at the Daily Journal still have problems telling us apart. Thank you for all your help and for always being there to listen. I will miss hearing about your family and your adventures, and I will miss you.
And finally, I have to mention Tim Watson. Tim and I have been together since ninth grade, except for the few years I was at Ole Miss. He has always been an extremely good person and extraordinary friend. When I was offered my new job, I didn’t hesitate about accepting it. I had prayed for a new direction for a long time, and things have been falling into place for me to become a teacher for the last several years. I did, however, struggle with leaving Tim. We have been Tim and Tina for so long. We are a family, as he often tells all of us at the Sentinel. We have collaborated on countless projects at the Sentinel, for his church, and for the community. I think our skills complement each other. He is so much I will never be. He has never met a stranger, and everyone loves him. It is so easy for him to charm people with kind words and a friendly smile. I will never be the people person he is. Thank you, Tim, for always being my friend, my family. I know you will continue to lead the Sentinel to even greater horizons.
Friday, July 16, will be my last day in my current career. Even though I know the Sentinel will go on without me, as it has since 1879, I still feel like I am abandoning a piece of my heart. I pray I have made a significant contribution, and my years here have made a difference. I will always be a part of this paper.
To all my friends and readers, I hope we keep in touch. No doubt, I will see many of you out and about in my daily life. If you need me for any reason, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have time, give me a call or stop by the paper this week. I would love to hear from you.
Goodbye and thank you again.