There. I knew those two words would be tough to get out, so the only way was to say them like ripping off an extra-sticky Band-Aid. Quickly.
As it turns out, today is my last day here with the Bladen Journal. After just about nine years, this all came along much faster than expected, but there is a huge hole to fill where I’ll be going — and it starts Monday.
That’s when I take over as editor for the Laurinburg Exchange over in Scotland County. It’s a five-day newspaper with a larger staff and readership — and offers an entirely different set of challenges.
I almost said thank-you, but no thank-you.
During my nearly 40-year newspaper career, my usual approach was to take a job, work it hard for two or three years and then move on — always looking for something better, something different. That’s taken me to a number of places across six states, giving me experiences and opportunities I’d never trade for anything.
It was pretty easy to move on because, though I’d created some really good contacts and made some solid bonds, there were very few really true friends to consider.
But for the first time, my roots have grown pretty deep in Bladen County — not only over the nearly nine years I’ve been the Bladen Journal’s general manager and editor, but starting a few years before that when I came here a couple times a week to fill in for Michael Simmons when he was sick.
Not only are there a lot of folks who I have a trusted, respected and professional relationship with, but there are others who will be lifelong friends. I don’t even dare to name them because I’d surely leave someone off inadvertently.
OK, I lied. I have to name names.
Robby Priest, you have become one of my best pals over the years and I fully expect that to continue — especially since I’ll be in your old college neck of the woods. I really appreciate all you’ve done for and with me, bud. You can bet I will see you at the Jamboree and stay in touch. #RobbyStrong always.
Leslie Johnson, in some ways you’ve been a fatherly figure I’ve been so lucky to have found — even though I’m not far behind you in years. I’ve so enjoyed our visits, the laughs and all of your personal assistance with “things.” You and the boys are good, solid friends. I can’t do Grey Goose, but I’ll always lift some Black Velvet to you.
Patty Evers, this all started when I was lucky enough to cover and follow you to three straight state championship games, followed by several years of really good stuff. I’ve respected the job you do as athletics director and coach, which can’t be easy. But more than that, I value our friendship more than you know.
Travis Pait, we go back to my days at The Robesonian, and throughout all of those years, I’ve considered you a good friend. I couldn’t have been happier when you took the West Bladen job — and I feel the friendship and respect has only grown since then. You are a top-notch coach, friend and person.
Ken Cross, my Yankees buddy. I will really miss our visits and chats about how we are going to “fix” the Yankees (I think they may be doing pretty well without us). Thank you for being a friend — sure will miss those stories.
Charles Ray Peterson, my only regret is that we didn’t connect sooner. If there is someone who cares about the entire county more than you do, I don’t think I’ve met them yet. It’s been a pleasure working with you in a number of areas and hope I’ve helped make a small difference in those things. I remember calling you “cerebral” once, and I was right.
Pam Stephens, always so helpful with softball information and who also was so very nice to my granddaughter when she delivered bubble gum to the team before playoff games. Kaylee will still ask now and then about “Coach Pam,” which always reminds me of how good a friend you are.
Goodness, there are also folks like Warren Hill, Ricky Leinwand, John Clark, Eddie Madden, Rufus Duckworth, Jeff Atkinson, Ray Britt, Rodney Hester and many others — including some who have come and gone — that will remain good friends. You’ve all made my time here one of the very best experiences I’ve had in this long career.
Will I leave the Bladen Journal a little better than when I arrived? That will be for y’all to decide, but those closest to me know they got the best I had.
It’s with a sad heart that I head west, but I feel sure our paths will cross again — often.
W. Curt Vincent has left the building.