Back in February of 1995, I relocated my family from California to Brownwood, Texas, to take my first management position in the newspaper industry. I found myself working for a newspaper publisher who, at the time I didn’t fully realize, would become a huge part of my life and the reason I would strive to become a newspaper publisher myself.
By the time I came along, he had been battling cancer for close to a decade. But by the way he embraced life you really wouldn’t know it unless he told you. Every few months he would be out of the office after getting his radiation treatments, but would still stay in contact with our management team through inter-office mail or phone calls. Remember, we didn’t have email or cell phones to use back then.
After working for him for almost two years, my home phone rang on Jan. 1, 1997. It was the managing editor letting me know that our publisher, Shelton Prince, had passed away losing his inner battle. I found myself making my way to the newspaper, which was closed for New Year's, and just sitting in his office, numb to what I had just learned.
Shelton was from Alabama, and his funeral services were to be held in the town of Jasper. Being a production director at the time, I was unable to make the trip with the rest of the management team, which was a decision that I regretted for years after.
Since his passing, I have worked for a number of newspapers and publishers. I was able to see the difference between someone who truly cared about the community he lived in, the people he worked with and the newspaper he ran as compared to someone who, quite simply, just did the job.
Sure, it was only two years that I was honored to work for Shelton, but his passion for work, life and community was infectious. I told myself many times over the years, if I ever get an opportunity to become a newspaper publisher that is how I want to be as well.
Fast forward to September 2015, I was a publisher running my second newspaper located in Southeast Texas. Company meetings had been scheduled in Natchez, Mississippi, which were to conclude by noon on a Friday. Prior to making this trip, I told my wife that I wanted to drive to Jasper, Alabama, after the meetings and do something that was long overdue.
On Saturday, Sept. 26,15 1/2 years after Shelton was taken from us, I was finally driving into Oak Hill Cemetery in Jasper, Alabama to pay my respects. Almost as though it was meant to be, I missed the first entrance gate and entered the second. As we drove down the first row, my wife watching out her side and I watching our mine, I had this feeling that we were getting closer. After making the first turn, I saw it, a large, beautiful, marble headstone with the last name “Prince” on it.
I stopped the car, asked my wife if she would like to join me knowing all too well that she was going to give me all the time I needed before doing so, then stepped out of the car and walked over to his plot.
I stood there and just stared at the gravesite for a few minutes. My emotions were starting to get the better of me, so I decided to take a seat on the grass to the left. I sat there close to a half hour thinking about past conversations, the pride in being honored to have known this man and smiling as I remembered his awesome laugh that was so filled with life!
I share this with you, the reader, to let you know that it is never too late to say “goodbye.” And if you have had someone in your life, that has impacted your life in such a positive way, find a way to do the same. You truly will not regret it.