Farewell, farewell, you old rhinoceros, I'll stare at something less prepoceros.
-- Ogden Nash
I think it was legendary newspaperman H.L. Mencken who once said finding a Christian in most newsrooms is as "rare as a raisin in orphanage oatmeal."
I'm not sure about that, but I do know that I have spent much of the past 16 years working with one of the Lord's gentlemen, who officially retires Monday.
Let me tell you a little about Bill Norton. He has served the calling of journalism for almost half a century.
A proud University of Tennessee graduate ("Go, Vols" ), he worked in Nashville covering city politics while competing against another young reporter named Al Gore . If you asked Bill (and we would.), he might relate with a bemused smile some anecdote about the future vice president of our nation, describing young Albert's challenges at discerning the nuances of City Hall.
Bill later worked in Louisville during the legendary days of the Courier-Journal's last Pulitzer effort in 1988.
He once told a great story (and ours is a business that provides great stories) about the time a sudden snowfall paralyzed Kentucky's river city. Somehow, some way all the newsroom editors made it in to work. They took off their scarves and heavy coats, put on the coffee and began to conceive detailed plans of how they would cover the mighty storm ... until someone noticed that the reporters who would be needed to execute such grandiose schemes had not made it into the office and the chiefs were forced to play Indians and do the heavy lifting themselves.
Speaking of heavy lifting, Bill served his country. For many the Vietnam War is a history lesson. For Bill it was combat as an Army lieutenant. I've sometimes looked at this kindly colleague and marveled that at one time in his life, someone half a world away was trying to kill him.
And vice versa.
He got a medal. He came home alive. And his reluctance to discuss it says more than the wordy chapters of some War College John Wayne. (Speaking of John Wayne, Bill again has a story about when The Duke and his fellow actors came to Fort Benning to film some scenes in the 1968 movie The Green Berets. They didn't get medals.)
Finally, Bill served the Lord.
He didn't proselytize. He didn't stuff religious tracts in your desk. But he handled himself consistently as a consummate Christian gentleman. He would often start his work day by placing a small crucifix by his typing keyboard. Then he would begin his editing tasks.
I never asked him about it. I never asked him to explain it. But I watched him do it and knew what it meant.
I also knew that if I called him at home, he would answer the phone with a "God bless you."
Bill's last assignment for this newspaper was a challenge. He has spent the past few months at our sister publication The McDuffie Mirror in Thomson, where for the first time in decades, he returned to reporting.
I don't know how to tell you how hard this is.
Bill succeeded admirably. Editors who weren't born when he began his career, would remark, "Hey, he's pretty good."
He still is.
May the Lord bless him in retirement.
("Go, Vols." )