Living & working as a witness to history


More than half a century in and around American politics — hardly an epitaph as one heads into his last years of life.

I’ve lived through assassination of one American president and attempts on two others, a resignation of yet another president in disgrace, impeachment of still another, primarily for dallying with an intern in the Oval Office, a nuclear missile crisis, a terrorist attack that killed thousands on 9/11 and more than enough drama and mischief to last several lifetimes.

Here in the Old Dominion of Virginia, we have another political melodrama playing out over the actions of not one, or two but all three of the elected leaders of our state.

Two foolishly covered their faces with dark shoe police to appear in blackface while in school — one at The University of Virginia and the other at Eastern Virginia Medical School — and the third may or may not have sexually assaulted a female student while attending Duke University and another woman at the Democratic National Convention in Boston.

So much crime, so little time to sort through it all.  More melodrama in a life devoted to witnessing history.

My work as a newspaperman has given me a front row seat at a lot of the history of this world for a half century or more.  It began as an 11-year-old elementary school student who lived through the racism of Prince Edward County, Virginia, when the Klan-controlled board of supervisors and school board closed the public schools to delay court-ordered integration.

I attended classes in church basements, American Legion halls and other makeshift locations at a county-supported all white school while African-American kids had no place to go to school.  The essays I wrote about that period, along with photographs of the atrocities, began my life as a newspaperman.

On Nov. 22, 1963, I sat in Ruth Hallman’s journalism class at Floyd County High School when principal Ray Hollandsworth came over the intercom with news of the shooting of President John Kennedy in Dallas.

On March 31, 1968, a television set in the newsroom of The Roanoke Times provided background noise while we worked on stories for the next day’s paper.  Then President Lyndon B. Johnson announced he would not seek a second elected term as president and most of us went out to gather public reaction.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, I worked on a routine assignment in downtown Washington, DC, when my Blackberry vibrated with news of an explosion at the Pentagon.  I spent the rest of the day and most of the night covering the aftermath of the plane that ripped a hole in the side of the building on a day that rocked the nation and the world.

My “sabbatical” as Congressional employee in the early 1980s gave me a close look at how our government and political system operates.  I watched the system change for the worst during that time.  Sadly, as part of that system, I contributed to its decline.

A return to journalism in the 1990s helped ease some of the guilt of being part of what I feel was, and still is, a decline of government service to the people it should serve.  I watched flamboyant Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich take control as Speaker of the House after the 1994 elections and turn Congress into a place where pettiness replaced patriotism.

I worked for Newt during part of my time as a political operative.  I’m ashamed of much of what I did for him and others in that sordid political circle.

The past 25 years of my life has been spent trying to correct at least some of the damage from what I did as a political operative in the 1980s but I do so as a member of a dying profession.  Journalism, like the corrupt political and governmental system is covers, continues to struggle.

Just about every day brings news of more massive layoffs and cutbacks not only in newspapers but also of the business of reporting the news.  Too many people today accept the partisanship of Fox News propaganda from phony journalists like Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson.

Social media gossip is too often consumed by too many as truth that isn’t.

I’ve been a witness to a lot of history over the past half century.  Reporting it has been a life’s work and ambition.

Was it worth it?

I used to think it was.

Now, I’m not so sure.  I’m not sure anyone really gives a damn.


© 2004-2021 Blue Ridge Muse

© 2021 Blue Ridge Muse