“All writers are waiting for replies. Maybe all human beings are.” — Niall Williams
It all started with a luncheon with Tom Lindley, who had just returned to Jeffersonville as the editor/publisher of the hometown newspaper that he had once started out as a cub reporter.
I knew Tom in his early days, as his brother Jack and I spent five years of Little League baseball as teammates.
Previous to meeting with Tom on that fateful afternoon in 1995, I had written for a while for the Tribune in New Albany for then Editor Marilyn Street Young, whom I had coached in a ladies softball league for a couple of years. She had asked me to write feature and human interest stories on a weekly basis. I had asked Marilyn if I could write a newspaper column for the Tribune. It was unheard of then for a nonnewspaper staff writer to write a weekly column, save syndicated columnists.
When Tom returned to town, I had not seen or talked with him for several years. I figured, “What the heck.” So I asked to meet him for lunch to talk, and it was there that I sprung an idea on him about writing a newspaper column for my hometown paper. I had anticipated a negative response.
Tom then told me about an idea he had to get local writers not on The Evening News payroll to appear on the Opinions page of the newspaper. His thought was to have a rotating team of people to write a monthly column. His list at that time included Dick Wathen, Edwin Crooks and another local heavyweight who was a hospital administrator.
To my amazement and surprise, he somehow ended up agreeing to give me a shot in the rotation. I submitted my first column reminiscing about my childhood days and how things had changed since then. I was so excited to see it published that I immediately wrote my second column and submitted it early for the next month’s slot. To my even greater surprise, Tom ran that one the next week. My column has run every week since then for 19-plus years.
This month begins my 20th year of writing a column for the News and Tribune. I’m still as surprised sometimes now as I was then that somehow it has just keeps on going. I keep submitting the columns on a weekly basis and they keep running.
I am proudest that I was the first regular weekly columnist that wrote for the newspaper that was not a newspaper staff employee. Several have followed since then and several regular nonemployee columnists currently are writing a weekly column.
Twenty years is a long time to do this. If I am still being published in another 51 weeks, I will accomplish that goal. I can never repay Tom Lindley for what he did to change my life. The same goes for Marilyn Street Young.
And it’s always been a handshake deal. With each new editor and publisher that has come aboard, I always thought to myself that this would be it for me and that I had a good run. There have been columns that got me in a bit of hot water, and one thing you find when publishing any opinion piece is not everyone will agree with you.
Some people really won’t agree with you.
While I in no way consider myself a political columnist, I never shy away from such columns. While I usually only write five or six political pieces each year, some people will always seem to think it’s many more than that. Any political piece will almost inevitably elicit a response, and often a very strong one for or against.
For as long as I can remember, the annual Christmas Parade column will always be the one that gets the most comments long after it runs. It’s also the only one that I know of that has ever cost the newspaper money when a local business owner found it so offensive one year that Christmas advertising was pulled from the newspaper.
I really thought that might be my last column. In an amazing stance of the principle of free speech versus commerce, my publisher stood up for me. I will never forget that gesture on the part of Bill Hanson. I will never forget his e-mail in which he explained to me how his day had gone. I was feeling the support, if not necessarily the love that day.
I do hope that somehow over the years my following has earned the newspaper back enough dollars to make up for that week. Even if not, I will always respect him for his backing me. I’m not always that easy to love.
My favorite critique and/or advice came from a reader’s letter to the editor that advised me to stand in front of a mirror naked and read the Bible. I have reached the point in life where mirrors and nudity scare me far more than any criticism.
As I begin my 20th year, I hope the passion, enthusiasm, curiosity and desire is still there on a weekly basis. And I hope that when the time comes, I will know it is time to stop.
As I have always known, the worst editor in the world is one that edits his own writing. I hopefully will see you this time next week. I wish to thank loyal readers for the gift of reading this space for 19 years. I never take you for granted.
— Lindon Dodd is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org