Simply the Best of the Best ...

[The following is the full-text of the note my best reporter friend, Bill McKelway, sent to his colleagues at The Richmond Times-Dispatch last Friday (the 13th) announcing his retirement after 44 years at the paper.  It's a keeper -- just like Bill.]

This brief note is an attempt to convey to the wonderful reporters and editors at The Times-Dispatch, each one a friend and colleague, that this is my last day at work among you after 44 years. I’m trying to do this in a way that doesn’t interrupt the already too hectic pace of things here, that doesn’t make me the center of attention and then leaves me a sobbing, emotional wreck with cake icing stuck to my earhole with a balled up napkin in my pocket.

This group of people, right here and right now, is the best that I have worked with as a whole in all these years. Of course, there are standouts and folks in the past who have gone on to accomplish things on a larger scale, but in terms of ability, cohesion, depth, intelligence, understanding and dedication to this craft, you all are the best.  And that goes from our remarkably gifted editor and friend, Paige, to the clean-up crew.

I’m also telling you all in this way because there’s nothing worse than a weepy goodbye in the corner and then having the object of so much veneration moping about the newsroom later like some sort of wraith. It’ll take me a few weeks to find all my crap so from here out I’m on vacation but with late night-early morning stealth visits to collect valuable documents from some forgotten warren in the coatroom. Or something. 

I have great fears about the well-being of staff given the ridiculously poor pay, the horrid hours, the difficulty of sustaining family and the impossibly arcane system designed to discourage reimbursing us for stuff we’ve had to pay gasoline and court documents. My heart goes out to you all. I want to give back to my family for their decades of understanding my absences and high-tailed desertions at important moments -- “Tractor trailer jacknifed on 95, four dead.  Save me some turkey. Bye. Love you guys!” -- and I want to help people in some way other than journalism without feeling as though I am compromising my objectivity and independence.

I want to bounce before I start talking to the wrong end of a broom. Reasons to quit all of a sudden outnumber all the reasons why. (Credit Prine and Merle)

I’ve loved every day. Even the worst days because they make the best days better. Don’t forget the opportunity this work offers to bring hope and joy and a listening ear to people left behind.

I will follow you all in print with my heart and hopes for your happiness and success and thank you so much for dedicating your lives to something so rare in these times as truth and objectivity.

A short greatest hits list:

Getting sucker punched in a bar in Atlantic City where I’d gone to write about the start of gambling. I’d innocently explained to the dude next to me my introduction to journalism, saying I’d taken a job filling in for striking printers in Richmond. Turned out he lost his job as a printer at another Media General paper in New Jersey and slugged me to help me remember what a scab asshole I am.

Lying in wait for death row escapees in Warren County, N.C., notably the Briley brothers, over a period of several days with no motel room I took a shower with a car wash pressure hose forgetting that I’d stupidly paid enough for the wax job at the end. I became briefly body-hairless.

Making a call from a phone booth in Nora during a coal strike I was mobbed by a group of 50 or so union guys, who’d just been delivered copies of that morning’s T-D editorial titled “Union Thugs.” They burned the copies and then one of them looked my way and clearly was aware I was the closest T-D agent at hand, 400 miles from home but close enough to kill.  A state trooper intervened.

Another strike in 1978 found me spending the night around a tire fire with a bunch of union guys trading stories in Big Stone Gap on the picket line. I was thrilled at how much they seemed to enjoy my anecdotes about prep school, a kid from (as Schapiro says) the hills and hollers of Chevy Chase, Md. As the stories turned, so did the group of us, the miners keeping upwind, leaving me downwind. I got back to the Country Boy Motel in Big Stone Gap at dawn and realized looking in the mirror why I was so entertaining. I was covered in black soot from the burning rubber smoke blowing my way.

It’s been a hoot. I hope as much for you all. Take care of your families. Love what you do.