Thank you. Thank you.
The last time I was in front of a crowd like this was when I was playing in a polka band at Pilsudski Hall in Chicopee Massachusetts on New Year’s Eve in 1967.
The celebration ended in a fight, and I rode home through a snowstorm in a Cadillac full of drums.
I hope tonight’s festivities don’t end with a brawl. … Well … we would make the 11 o’clock news.
But seriously, when I was growing up, I never imagined being in front of a crowd like this. Never imagined being a journalist.
When I was a kid, I thought I might be a plumber. The one in town seemed to lead a charmed and useful life.
And I thought my habit of rummaging through old papers stuffed in my grandfather’s chicken coop might lead to something.
Well, it did. Forty years later I’m still rummaging through old papers. They’re just stuffed in the county courthouse.
And I suppose I’ve become a bit of a plumber. Leaks and breaks in the system are good for business.
I sort of fell into the news racket. I was spinning tunes at a radio station up in Waynesboro one night when the news director announced he was taking a job as a prison guard and handed me the keys to the WAYB Action Radio Newsmobile.
He’s retired now, with a nice state pension. But, I’ll tell you one thing: if there’s a hall of fame for prison guards, he ain’t in it.
I’ve never been motivated by the prospect of awards and honors, though I must confess it’s awfully nice to be noticed.
But being a small-town muckraker certainly has its own rewards. The best are simple and pure and unexpected. On the other hand, a few days after the news of this award got out, a snotty French Poodle bit the hell out of me while I was delivering a subscriber’s paper. (I think I’ll mail ’em the next one.)
It’s not hard to be humble when you peddle your own paper.
Once when I was out on a raid, for no particular reason I remembered a little sign what was taped to the railing of the press box in Lexington city hall when I started working in town. It said, “Here sits the press: Watchdogs for the Community, Guardians of the Public Purse, Noble Men and Women All.” Sometime later, someone added a little graffiti that said, “Liars, Cut-throats & Thieves.” Sensitive soul that I am, it ruined my day.
But despite some existential doubts, and having to learn the small-business blues, I’ve had the time of my life starting and running the Rockbridge Advocate. And I’m grateful for everyone who’s made — an still makes it possible. Some of those folks would rather not be on the list. But either way, thanks, and don’t ever change!
And finally, but as an old Baptist preacher used to say, not immediately, I hope that this honor, and the scholarship this ceremony funds, will in some way encourage some curious soul with a nose for news to wander away from the crowd and find a place to stay for a while.
I managed to find an enchanted one full of quirks and characters and scandals and schemes. And I took my old neighbor’s advice and got to know a couple of everybody. And I paid my dues. And I’ve tried to do what reporters are supposed to do: to listen, to go digging, and to question authority and not settle for glib and self-serving answers.
All my life I’ve managed to find some people who, just by being themselves, opened my eyes and ears, and encouraged me to think and ask questions. And I’ve been fortunate to have found an opportunity to use those gifts in the place that I call home.
I’ve been able to make a radio transmitter sing and dance to the sounds of this world, and unwittingly provide a Saturday night sound-track for generations of folks tucked away in the hoots and hollows.
And I’ve been able, with a lot of help, to produce a monthly fish-wrapper.
I never wanted any power or influence. Never gave a damn about that stuff.
I’ve just run a community paper. But if a paper runs stories that’ll stick to your ribs, it holds up a mirror.
Real communities need real mirrors.
And if I’ve provided one now and then, maybe I’ve done some good in this world.
April 11, 2013