For a while last week, I thought seriously about deleting news and commentary about political issues from Blue Ridge Muse. It came after those who disagree decided that lying about me, my beliefs, and my lifestyle turned a political discussion on social media into a sideshow.
But discussions with those whose opinions I respect, including my wife-best friend and partner, said “why give in?”
Great question. The one poster claimed I, as a recovering alcoholic, was still drinking and was drunk when I write some of the things he didn’t like. It was a lie. He knew it and ignored facts to make claims in a pathetic attempt to try to divert from the issue. As this is written, I have been sober for 26 years, 11 months, and six days. I carry a bronze chip from Alcoholics Anonymous that signifies 26 years of sobriety. A new chip, showing 27 years, will replace it next month.
Others claim I am a liberal democrat. That comes as a surprise to my grown, liberal daughter who decries my ownership of guns, my carrying of one with a valid concealed carry permit, and several other beliefs that I hold. I am liberal on some issues, conservative on others. I consider myself a political agnostic.
“You are an individual,” says wife Amy, who is far more to the left than me. “Your opinions are not controlled or beholden to any political or philosophical stereotype.”
In many ways, it’s immaterial what I may or may not believe. I write about politics as a longtime newspaperman who has covered the topic for more than half a century and who took a six-year sabbatical to work as a political operative for the national GOP political committees in the first half of the 1980s. Those who claim I “know nothing about how politics works” ignore the five years I spent as Vice President for Political Programs for The National Association of Realtors, administering what was then the largest political action committee in the nation that supported Republicans, Democrats, and even some independents for elections to Congress and the White House. I have more experience in politics than many others.
I’ve paid my dues, both as a reporter and a political operator. I’m also a career photojournalist who has traveled the world, covering news in violent hot spots. I’ve met and interviewed national leaders in many countries but am much happier now to be spending my later and final years photographing high school athletes, musicians, and local activities back in the county where I spent my high school years.
No, I am not a Floyd native. I was born in Tampa, Florida, the native home of my father, lived outside of that city for the early years of my life but came to the county with my mother when she returned here after my father died in a horrible industrial accident. My mother was a native here. So were my maternal grandparents and several generations of ancestors.
We lived for a while in Prince Edward County after she remarried a Floyd County man who lived there, owned a sawmill, had a farm, along with three children from a previous marriage. Two more kids came along during their marriage, but our new family left the area after a racist school system and board of supervisors closed the public schools to avoid integration and opened an all-white “private school” to prevented education by children of minorities. My mother and stepfather and our family of five children relocated back to Floyd County in 1961.
I attended high school as a freshman for the year that Floyd County High School opened, worked for The Floyd Press, and graduated in 1965 as a member of the Beta Club who was also the school photographer.
That was also the year I left the county to further pursue a career as a newspaperman, first for The Roanoke Times for five years, then a paper in the St. Louis Metro area for 12, until moving to Washington in 1981, home for Amy and I until we left in 2004 to move to Floyd County. I left behind what I thought would be my last full-time work as a contract photojournalist for wire services and news organizations. Retirement? A possibility.
When I came back, I didn’t expect to return to the first newspaper I served but an offer by then-editor Wanda Combs offered me a contract position as a reporter and photographer, ending the short-lived “retirement.” I’ve been back with the Press now for 16 plus years and also shoot video for TV stations and free-lance for other news organizations.
I’m not from here, but I went to high school in Floyd. Since then, I’ve been to a lot of places, seen a lot of things, written about them, photographed them, and experienced many cultures, philosophies, and environments. Amy, an actress when we met, worked on projects in New York City, directed plays, and had other activities. We’ve had interesting, and varied lives.
We now live here because we want to. We will continue to live here for the same reason and that decision is ours and ours alone. Detractors have said we should leave and “go somewhere else.”
Why? I have resumed long friendships from my time in Floyd County before leaving for 40 years. We’ve made many new friends and learned a lot about what it means to be part of this county in 2012.
On Nov. 9 of that year, while returning on my motorcycle from an assignment to shoot photos of a Buffaloes playoff game outside Staunton, a black steer in darkness on U.S. 221 in Roanoke County caused me to lay the bike down to avoid a head-on collision. The crash put me in a coma with brain trauma, compound fractures of my right leg, a dislocated right eye, and other severe injuries.
During the two months at Carilion Roanoke Memorial, we received hundreds of letters and cards from Floyd Countians along with dozens of visits from county and area residents. We were overwhelmed with offers of aid and assistance during the hospital stay and during my time of recovery over the following year. The Floyd Press printed weekly updates on my condition and recovery. Roanoke Times columnist Dan Casey kept the paper’s readers up-to-date on my fight for recovery.
It showed us a lot of what Floyd County is and how the area took us into their lives to help and support.
It proved to us that this is home and will be for the rest of our lives.
We are among a lot of friends. We do not always agree on our opinions and beliefs, but we are all in this together. When I see something I feel is wrong or needs attention, I may write about it on this website. I don’t write opinion pieces for The Floyd Press. I cover news like Circuit Court and the Board of Supervisors and I shoot photos of high school sports, our music culture, and features for the paper.
As we said and believe: This is home.