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Time to say farewell

So, what does one say when asked to pen a few words about retiring from what was described as a part-time job but which turned out to be a major part of my life for the past eight-plus years?

The first thing is an apology. No matter how I rack my brain so that nothing important is left out, something will be. With that mea culpa expressed, here goes.

Explaining how and why this most recent part of my life happened is easy. After retiring from my original career in corporate communications and government affairs in the agribusiness industry, I quickly learned there is only so much lawn work and gardening one can do and only so much golf one can play to pass the time.

So when West Newsmagazine said it was looking for a part-time writer to cover local events and feature stories, I wasted no time applying. After all, I had worked at a daily newspaper while in college and for several years thereafter, although I never took any journalism or creative writing courses. Perhaps the people at West Newsmagazine concluded the corporate business experience and the on-the-job journalism training long ago were a good combination. Regardless, the job turned out to be an ideal situation.

I’ve met and talked to hundreds of interesting people since taking the job in 2011. Many have been elected officials and staff members in Ballwin and Chesterfield, three fire protection districts, and the dispatch center that receives 911 calls for those districts and others in and around St. Louis County. There also have been the business leaders who were willing to share their viewpoints on current topics, along with the scores of residents who had interesting, thought-provoking stories to tell. Listing them all isn’t possible but a quick tally of news stories and features stored on the hard drives of two computers used during my years with West Newsmagazine totals at least 1,200.

The feature stories about veterans seemed to strike a responsive chord with readers. Among them:

The Vietnam vets attending a reunion in the West County area who told of their wartime experiences, including the disdain many of them suffered when they returned home after their service.

Two Navy enlisted men who recalled their memories from Pearl Harbor 75 years after the sneak attack that brought the United States into World War II.

The B-17 machine gunner who survived the bombing raids over Nazi-occupied Europe and later action during and after the D-Day invasion. He was one of those who had a guest ride in a restored Flying Fortress during an air show at Spirit of St. Louis Airport a few years ago.

The Chesterfield Marine who received a postcard more than 70 years after he had sent it to a friend during World War II.

Ongoing stories about Michael Flamion, the Ballwin police officer paralyzed from the neck down after being shot during a routine traffic stop three years ago, were especially impactful for me as a writer, and I hope for you as a reader. The huge outpouring of support that followed the incident says much about the community in which we live.

Articles on local politics have been another favorite of mine. One of the more recent involved interviews with the two Democratic candidates for St. Louis County executive. Those encounters greatly influenced my vote in the subsequent primary election and my challenge was to not let that bias show in the story about the two men.

A recent story about the decline of Chesterfield Mall was both sad and hopeful.

So many stories to tell.

I initially considered leaving my work at West Newsmagazine when my wife was in the final stages of her battle with cancer – a battle that claimed her life in early spring last year. She strongly argued against that, unselfishly knowing I needed that outlet and would need it more after she was gone.

She was right.

But now, almost a year-and-a-half later, the time has come to retire. But who knows? Maybe I’ll write another story or two down the road.

We’ll see.

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