Friday, December 21, 2018

End of an Era (?)

Today is the day that the editor of The Fincastle Herald, Ed McCoy, steps down from his 34-year journey as the news guide for the county. He began working for The Herald in August, 1984, and I started freelancing for him in October, 1984.

So we have known each other a very long time, and over the years I like to think we have become friends. He's grown a bit more libertarian in his thinking as he's aged and I've grown a bit more liberal, so sometimes our political discussions can be entertaining, but they were always thought-provoking.

My first article for Ed was about making apple butter. His criticism of the story was this: it's great writing, but there isn't any "you" in the story. None of my personality came through.

I learned to deal with that by coming up with entertaining ledes to articles (that's the opening sentence to non-newspaper folks) and then going on mostly with "just the facts." I tend to be a just-the-facts kind of writer but Ed did bring out the best in my work. He was a good editor and I learned how to give a story life under his tutelage. He taught me as much as any of my professors at Hollins. Maybe more.

Stories that I remember best include one about two sisters who played basketball, which I started out with, "It must be the Tootsie Rolls," because the two girls ate the candies before games, going up in a hot air balloon, a series I wrote in Craig County about the state of the community over there and what would happen if a county went bankrupt (something that looked very likely at that time), a story I wrote about the Social Services Angel Tree that ultimately brought in $15,000 in donations, a story about the possibility of Nestle' bringing a water bottling facility to the area, and oh gosh, I wrote so many I can't possibly remember them all or pick out a best one. There were literally thousands of them.

Ed challenged me to go beyond my comfort zone, sending me on stories I'd have preferred not to write. (I never did like to write stories that tore at my heart, the ones about sick people or people fighting the tough fight against an illness or whatever.) I wrote them anyway and always did a good job with them, usually better than I ever thought I would, because I had Ed to talk it over with before I started the article. Once I had the slant, which in the early days I often needed help finding, I could move forward and create a moving piece.

As I aged and felt more comfortable with my talent and work, I turned down stories occasionally, mostly those that involved children at the schools because I became ill every time I entered a classroom. Finally, I settled into what seemed to be my forte', government writing. That suited my "just the facts" style and allowed me to feel like I was contributing something to the community by educating them about what is going on in their county.

My editor and I had many long discussions about what was going on in Botetourt. We argued with the county over Freedom of Information Act issues, and we discussed in detail how and what we should write. We profiled person after person and multiple businesses - you can find copies of the article I wrote and he edited and published hanging on the walls of many businesses in Botetourt. Just last week someone I'd written a story about told me they had the article hanging on the wall of their home. I'm sure there are just as many with his byline hanging on the walls of businesses and homes, too.

Ed and I both love history and I wrote many pieces about the multitude of historic legacies Botetourt County has to offer, as did he and other writers. Ed actually turned a series of stories about the Civil War into a magazine/book and he gave me kudos in his preface for my help over the years, which I greatly appreciated.

When I was 10 years old I said I wanted to be the editor of The Fincastle Herald. That apparently was not to be - health issues kept me from applying for his position this time, and previous opportunities never came about when I could manage it - the last one being shortly after my mother passed away in 2000. After that the newspaper, like so many others, fell upon difficult times and I was lucky to freelance for the paper for as long as I did (I stopped in 2016, although this past September I filled in for a week while Ed took a 10-day vacation.).

However, Ed gave me the opportunity to cover the county, and the chance to fill the paper with my byline, and I will always be grateful to him for that. Because he believed I could do it, I can call myself a professional writer.

Thanks for allowing me to be a freelancer for The Fincastle Herald, Ed. May your retirement be filled with lots of hunting and good times.

Ed with his camera (2016)

Ed received a proclamation from the Board of Supervisors for his long service to the community on 12/20/2018. Pictured from left: Steve Clinton, Mac Scothorn, Ed McCoy, Billy Martin, Ray Sloan.

Ed with Supervisor Mac Scothorn. Ed called Botetourt County a great place to work, full of
beautiful lands and wonderful people.

I had to laugh because even though today (12/21) is technically Ed's last day of work, yesterday he was still taking notes like a good reporter at a meeting. (I confess I do the same.)

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