When thinking of this final edition of The McDuffie Mirror, I went to the online archives and found my first column. It was the June 9, 2005, edition, and the headline was “A crash course in McDuffie County.” It described my induction to rural-town life – something that didn’t take me long to embrace. I can’t think of a single bad memory from my six years of living in Thomson. I took the job at The Mirror and moved to Thomson while going through a divorce. The DivorceCare workshop at Thomson First Baptist Church, taught by Butch Baston, was a great help during that time. But all the people of McDuffie County were an even bigger help, as you shared your stories and lives with me.
I smile as I remember how my horizons expanded through life in your small community. I remember my first time covering a Dearing Town Council meeting. The start of the meeting was delayed because then-Mayor Ralph Menees’ cat had followed him to city hall, and he had to walk it back home. Right away, I knew I’d like covering that place. I returned countless times to Dearing, covering the town council, elections, school events, the opening of the renovated gym, the removal of beehives, Mayfest, and Miss Mayfest pageants, Hillcrest Farm’s new “The Hilton” for cows, chili cookoffs, over-crowded Christmas Tree lighting ceremonies, Miss Ailene’s Burger Battles, a sunflower field, etc. I didn’t realize how “hard” I’d been on the town council, until I received a phone call one day from Mayor Sean Kelley informing me that “the entire town council will be sitting at the same table at the Chamber of Commerce banquet. I just wanted to let you know we’ll have a quorum, but I don’t think we’ll be taking any action.” I knew I loved the people there, but didn’t realize how much they cared for me until two of them – Barbara Blanton and Mary Wells – came to my mother’s funeral service. They didn’t know my mother. The two ladies said they simply came there for me, and it meant so much.
I remember covering the struggles of the Boneville community when their post office closed. Although I light-heartedly reported that “rain, sleet and snow can’t stop them, but mold can,” I felt their frustration and disappointments, and made many phone calls to post office and real estate officials to find out details for the story and to find anything that could help them. The people of that community refused to quit.
I was inspired by so many of your stories – Brothers Eric and the late Matthew Jones, who co-authored a book; Thomson Manor Health Care Center residents who didn’t care that they were confined by wheelchairs and walls, but raised hundreds of dollars for Cystic Fibrosis research; the hundreds of teens who worked through Mission McDuffie and the many people they helped; a few students at Dearing Elementary who worked to raise money and purchase bicycles for poor people in Zambia, Africa; Ethan Hobbs who became the Make-A-Wish poster child; and Margaret Beckum’s bout with cancer, and the community who rallied together in prayer for her. The list goes on…..
I covered success stories – December graduations, making Annual Yearly Progress, being number one in the nation for Relay For Life per capita funds raised, the Belle Meade Hunt making the cover of Tour Georgia magazine, the grand opening of the McDuffie Museum in time for the Smithsonian Institute exhibit, the instant success of the McDuffie Arts Council and its working studio/gallery MAC on Main, the new life in downtown Thomson with the first “Fallcrows” contest, and Teacher of the Year Robin Dudley making it as a state finalist. That list, too, could go on…..
Of course, there’s the laughs – womanless beauty pageants and purple potties – if I think too hard about it, I’d worry that they are so successful in Thomson. And I can’t ever forget that the best place to find a story if I needed one was at The Brier Patch on the corner of Railroad and Greenway streets, where the county government complex now stands.
The lessons I learned from The Mirror’s staff through the years will never be forgotten – Angela Blair taught me how to use tape to prevent wrinkles between my eyebrows and Kristopher Wells taught me how to stick pencils in the ceiling. I perfected my rubber band-shooting skills at Billy Hobbs’ expense. Janet Wells provided chocolate as a means of handling stress. And Jason Smith was the best at finding the funniest YouTube videos. Of course, anything is funny in the wee hours of the morning while we waited for proof pages to come off the printer, which is when these antics took place.
Seriously, I learned so much from everyone in McDuffie County. I took the important lessons with me when I moved to Augusta to work for The Augusta Chronicle, and then when I moved to Eatonton to write for The Eatonton Messenger. I can’t thank you, McDuffie County, enough, and I will never forget you.