This could very well be the last story I will ever write as a professional journalist.
It's so weird to think of it that way.
After 26 years as managing editor of the Mountain Home News, I have resigned, effective this Friday. I'll be moving on to new challenges where, I believe, I'll continue to have the ability to try and make the world a slightly better place than I found it.
I'll be doing public relations work, which, for most of the last 45 years that I've been a journalist, I've always considered to be the "dark side." But now I know why people become storm troopers. It pays better.
For some people, this announcement will lead to dancing in the streets, riotous drinking and fireworks. Others will sit back, say "that's too bad," and go on with their lives (as they should). Others won't have a clue who I am and won't care a whit.
When I came here 26 years ago, I didn't expect to stay this long. I was hired to rebuild a newspaper, get it back on its feet, and then I expected to move on.
But I fell in love with Mountain Home and stayed. No matter where I may wind up 10, 20 or (hopefully) 30 years from now, if someone asks me where I'm from, I'll always say "Mountain Home." I got married here. I raised my children here.
I have always loved the wonderful diversity of people that live here (thanks in large part to the airbase). I can walk into a meeting and hear accents from New England, the deep south, Idaho, and half a dozen spots in Europe and Asia.
I have always loved the intense patriotism of this town. It's not the phony "wrap yourself in a flag" stuff you see from so many politicians and general gadflies and goonies. It's real. It's bone deep. For the vast majority of people who live here it is part of who they are. It's wonderful.
I loved having access to all the amenities of a big city nearby, if I wanted them, but being able to live in a small town where people wave at each other as they pass on the street, where people refer to elected officials by their first names and a handshake can still close a deal. I loved that my kids could walk down the street at night without me worrying about their safety.
The foundation of any town is its people and there are a lot of very fine human beings who live here, many of whom I am proud to call friends.
This paper is one of the oldest in the state, having been founded in 1888. I've served a fifth of its history, which may explain why my grandchildren think I started in this business by drawing bison on cave walls.
An entire generation has passed while I sat at this desk trying to give the people who live here a sense of what is going on around them. I've written the birth notices of people we're now covering in our stories as adult school teachers and business owners here.
The editor of a country newspaper is both the voice and the conscience of his community, for good or ill. Whether you agreed or not, I always took that responsibility very seriously. I've always felt most solutions to problems can be found in the middle ground, that compromise has great value, and I always tried to move people in that direction. The truth, and answers to problems, are rarely found in extreme positions.
But I am looking forward to no longer having to put my opinions out there every week, year in and year out. It'll be nice to keep a few things to myself for once.
I started in this business when I was a teenager and I've been doing it for 45 years. As I recall, I got into the business because it looked easy. What was I thinking?
But I've had a chance to meet amazing people and see things and do things that few people will ever get a chance to experience. I've had a chance to make small, positive changes in the world. Some people never get that chance. It's a hard but fulfilling profession and I'll miss it.
By the time I got here, I was pretty used to the routine, the long hours, the stress of trying to always be accurate and correct (that's a lot harder than it looks), and the constant criticism that comes with the job, but when I married my wonderful wife, Rita, she got a crash course in what it really means.
I've left her at the hair parlor and in grocery stores while I ran off to cover a fire or accident. She's seen smoke in the hills and when I didn't come home knew I was trying to get to the fireline, then had to get the smell of smoke out of my clothes when I got home (we have way too many range fires around here, ask any fireman who can't walk away from them, like I can, until they're over).
She's sat in the cars at the side of the road while I got out to go shoot pictures of some really gruesome fatal accidents (I've been to the scene of 167 fatalities in my career, more than some cops).
She's missed me a lot of nights as I had to cover a meeting or event that was outside the 8-5, and a lot of her hopes for a weekend with just us alone or enjoying a trip to the mountains got put on hold because of all the weekend assignments I'd wind up with. She's been accosted when by herself in the supermarket by people who wanted to tell her what they thought I should write, and waited patiently beside the shopping cart if I was with her and ran into someone who needed to talk to me about a story or issue in the community.
She's been my rock and kept me sane when the nuts started to get to me.
But like me, I think she's going to miss it as much as I do. We're not running off right away, so we'll still get to see the people we enjoy so much. But rather than waving at friends as I work my way up and down the AFAD parade route taking pictures, I'm going to get to sit with them and just watch it.
This is a hard business and a tough chair to sit in. Brian now moves into the hot seat. We like each other now but I'm sure there will be a day when he'll curse me roundly for ever leaving and wish he'd been able to stay just a reporter.
Things will change. Every change in leadership means a new way of doing things. Hopefully, all changes are for the better. But there are always people who are a little resistant to changing the way things have been. I've reached an age where I understand that completely. Others will embrace the changes. For Brian's sake, be open to the changes. Give him some time before he's judged.
I'm looking forward to my new challenges, but I'll admit I'm going to miss this old pile of bricks and ink. A lot of my blood has been spilled here. And there are people I've worked with over the years, some gone, some still here, whose friendships I have and always will, treasure.
This town is a part of my heart.
It has been an honor and a privilege to serve you.
In this business, one of the old editing marks, when we still did that by hand, to show that a story had ended, was to put a dash on each side of the number 30, and to circle it, telling the printer to put a 30-em line at the end of the story (an em is an old printer's unit of measurement). It's time to make that final mark.