After more than 35 years in the newspaper industry, 18 of which have been spent at this newspaper, your community editor at the DeSoto Times-Tribune is turning the page, writing a new chapter.
It seems like only yesterday that I arrived at the newspaper after a stint at my hometown newspaper, The Madison County Journal and before that as Managing Editor of the Manchester Times in Manchester, Tenn., home of the world famous Bonnaroo Music Festival.
At each juncture in my journalism career, I have been privileged to have met some of the finest people from all walks of life, that the good Lord put upon this earth. While at the Delta Democrat-Times in Greenville, I met a Vietnam War veteran from Drew, Mississippi who not only lost both his legs but his entire lower body in a rice paddy in Vietnam. His courage, his optimistic view on life changed me inside. He imparted to me an uncanny joy and peace and gratitude to be alive and the mindset that you never give up, you never quit no matter how hard or difficult the fight.
While in the Delta, it was my good fortune to personally meet blues royalty in the manner of the great B.B. King, who slowed down his tour bus to invite a struggling young writer on board to travel with him for a bit. I was awed by this great bluesman’s humble story of perseverance, talent and above all, soul.
In fact, this writer has been awed by the many stories of individuals down through the years who have crossed my path. Death-row inmates who found God. Paraplegics who found joy and purpose. Civil rights icons who battled bigotry and won over hearts. People like my good friend Curtis Usry who runs one of the last great general stores in America. Leave your credit card at home, as cash only is accepted. But don’t worry. You can pay on the honor system. With people like Mr. Curtis, things like honor, integrity and civility still exist.
People like Mat Lipscomb and his late wife Cindy who shared their personal story of tragedy and triumph with millions via television and in personal testimony.
Their faith inspired me, and in fact, were among the many individuals and couples who have encouraged me in my own faith walk. While I may not be composing as many news stories, I will be attempting to write a few good sermons as I now pastor a wonderful church family, and am presently attending seminary to seek a Master’s Degree in Divinity.
I leave the newspaper in the good hands of my talented and capable friends — people like our longtime columnist Dale Lilly, who can make you laugh and cry, almost at the same time. And my good friend, Bob Bakken, whose Minnesota accent is belied by a certain Southern sensibility, dry wit and gregarious hospitality.
I also wish to pay tribute in this space to my mentor Tom Pittman, who helped to mold and shape a young journalist into a writer. At every editorial meeting, Tom would ask the same rhetorical question. “So, what is the story?”
To my loving and devoted wife and daughter, I am heartily sorry for all the missed meals together, along with missed homework assignments, cheerleading practices, holidays and anniversaries as I carried out my newspaper responsibilities.
To our readers, I am happy to report that our stories — my story and your stories — will go on and live again in the retelling.
I have been privileged over these nearly two decades to be able to share these stories with all of you.
It’s these stories that I will help preserve and tell in my new vocation, that as the new Director and Head Curator of the DeSoto Museum.
The museum, which was awarded the honor of Mississippi’s Best Small Museum in 2003, will be my new home. It is led by a very dedicated and capable Board of Directors who are responsible to you as shareholders in our collective rich and dynamic history. In short, it’s a treasure trove of stories and memories.
I will have the pleasure of sharing those stories in a weekly history column, beginning next week, on the pages of this newspaper.
So, it’s not really goodbye. So long, for now. Godspeed and good luck. As the old refrain goes, I’ll be seeing you in all the familiar places, and in the reflection of all the old familiar faces.
Thank you, my friends.
Robert Lee Long