Letter writer truly cared about Natchez

Published 12:11 am Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It was easy to predict when Kirk Bartley would be stopping in to see us.

Certain issues in our town or country always got his blood boiling, his brain working and fingers typing.

But he never brought a letter to the editor to our office without a smile on his face, a joke or a compliment and an interest in the common good.

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His last letter, published on Aug. 5, two days after his first round of radiation and chemotherapy, was fittingly about the U.S. health care system.

His letter pegged the U.S. system as “the best in the world,” and sparked 70 online comments and countless more in the community.

Debate, discussion and action were things Mr. Bartley knew how to create.

His words will be missed, but it’s the silence that may hurt us all.

Mr. Bartley was a rare breed these days. He cared.

He cared about politics in Washington, D.C., Jackson and Adams County.

He cared about the economy in his adopted town of Natchez.

He cared about righting injustice and rewarding good deeds.

But he didn’t just care, he spoke, attended and acted.

Letters to the editor of this newspaper from Mr. Bartley are counted by the dozens for sure, but it wasn’t just his pen that Mr. Bartley exercised.

He attended community forums, sometimes serving as a panelist. He supported community non-profit projects. And he earned the title “Mr. Ambassador” from his boss at Dunleith for his reputation for welcoming guests to town with enthusiasm.

In 2007, when the debate was raging over bringing a private prison to town, Mr. Bartley stood on the sidewalk outside St. Mary Basilica explaining to those passing why the prison was crucial to the economy of the county.

Today the prison employs 400 people and reports a $32 million investment in the community.

Mr. Bartley wasn’t an apathetic complainer. He was a doer.

A participant in the Historic Natchez Pageant, he was quick to praise a long overdue addition of black history and black cast members a few years ago.

In the e-mail era, Mr. Bartley never resorted to zipping his letters to the editor my way without an in-person visit. In fact, if I was in the building he insisted upon seeing me personally, shaking my hand and praising the work our newspaper does.

It was just his style.

Mr. Bartley was supposed to be home from the hospital in time for Thanksgiving. His radiation was done and surgery scheduled to remove the tumor.

Despite six months of fighting cancer of the esophagus, his death last week was a surprise.

It surely came far too soon for his family and wife of 25 years, Judy, who he called “the beat of my heart.”

And it came too soon for Natchez.

This newspaper’s opinion page will never be the same, that’s for sure.

But, my fear, is that Natchez may suffer the greatest loss.

We’ve lost a friend, a supporter, a go-to guy.

But most important, we’ve lost someone who cared.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.