People, stories hold special place in heart

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 12, 2001

Not long after I moved to Natchez, Yvonne Robbins gave me some advice: Find three things you like about this town, she told me.

Yvonne, who is veterans services officer for the City of Natchez, used the advice herself when she was traveling with her husband in the military.

It reminds me of the saying, stitched on canvas, that my mother carried with her to every new house: Bloom where you are planted.

It didn’t take long to find three things I liked about Natchez, and dozens more.

I don’t even remember now what were among those first three things – maybe the smell of sweet olive or the way the sunset looks from Jewish Hill in the city cemetery.

I do know that what I have loved most, in the end, are the people, and the stories you have to tell.

On Monday morning I will begin a new job in a familiar town. I am returning to The Alexander City (Ala.) Outlook, a newspaper at which I worked before moving to Natchez.

I go knowing I have a wealth of possibilities before me in terms of my career, but I leave knowing that Natchez has become a part of me. I hope, in some way, I will always be a part of it.

I arrived in town two and a half years ago, just ahead of a hurricane on the coast, and life, as always happens in a newsroom, hasn’t slowed since.

I have learned a great deal about being a journalist, both from my talented peers at The Democrat and from the sources I’ve encountered every day.

I have had the chance to tell some wonderful stories while living here.

I spent three days with the students and teachers at Pleasant Acre Day School, a school for mentally handicapped adults.

Three days out of the 40 years they’ve spent together is a drop in the bucket, but it was long enough to become accustomed to their routine of lessons and songs and snacks, and to get just a taste of the challenges they face.

The Pleasant Acre students – with their cheerful smiles and bright attitudes – make up just a handful of the incredible stories I’ve encountered.

I will remember a smooth hot-air balloon ride above the Miss-Lou with Debbie Guido; a small brick church on Cemetery Road bursting with song one sunny afternoon; a modest veteran downplaying his role as part of the &uot;greatest generation.&uot;

Those stories – along with countless aldermen meetings, chamber luncheons, community gatherings – have become a part of the fabric of my memory; they have made me a better journalist.

But more important, they are part of the fabric of this community.

My philosophy of community journalism is that reporters and editors are stewards of the newspaper; it actually belongs to the community.

And it has been my privilege to help take care of your newspaper, even for a little while.

Kerry Whipple, news editor of The Democrat, will leave to be managing editor of the Alexander City Outlook. She can be reached until Sunday at 445-3562 or by e-mail at kerry.whipple@natchezdemocrat.com.