Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A proper sendoff: A column about a local character who helped define his community

One of the best things a rural journalist can do is write an appreciation of a signiifcant local person who has recently did but to whom justice couldn't be done in a typical obituary. Paul Roy of The Independent Herald in Oneida, Tenn., did that last week for his community and William C. "Jumby" Terry, a business and political fixture in coal- and timber-rich Scott County for decades.

Roy writes about the last time he saw Jumby, "physically feeble, but mentally as bright-eyed and alert as I had seen him in the past few years," and the first time, 34 years ago, when he tried to get him to invest in a second newspaper for the county. "He wanted to know who was going to be involved in this new venture, what the true purpose was, who came up with the idea, etc., etc. It was my interview and I hadn’t asked a single question!" Jumby "had a running feud of several years" with one of the prospective investors, so he "opted out, but within just a few years (and many times afterwards), he said he wished he had got in on the ground floor. I wish he had, too."

And while the two became friends, Roy knew where to draw the line: "I learned early to say no thanks when Jumby would say, “Come with me, let’s ride around awhile.” I did that a few times, and had no intention of continuing the practice. When Jumby wanted me to go for a ride, he actually wanted to convince me of something and he wanted time to be on his side. Behind the wheel of his car, his ever-so-slow moving car, he was in control. And he had no intention of letting me out until he got whatever it was off his mind and into mine!"

Roy's column brought Jumby back to life in a way that only he could, because of his personal experience with him. But such personal experience isn't required to write an appreciation, and it doesn't have to wait until someone dies. Local characters make a community what it is, and often define it, pieces like this are part of the basic job of a local paper, holding a mirror up to the community. To read it, click here.

1 comment:

John Rogers said...

Here's another good one: