KENT WARD

Farewell at the end of a good ride

Posted June 29, 2012, at 5:40 p.m.

When I retired from the Bangor Daily News in October 1991 after 29-plus years with the paper, publisher Rick Warren and managing editor V. Paul Reynolds kindly invited me to continue writing my weekly Saturday morning column that had run since 1967, when I began covering the Maine Legislature as the paper’s political writer.

It would be an open-ended arrangement of no particular duration, they said, suggesting that I would know when it was time to call it quits.

Today, going on 21 years since we shook hands on the deal, that time has arrived.

After 45 years of writing a weekly column that began as commentary on Maine politics and morphed into commentary on pretty much any subject you’d care to mention, this is my swan song — my final column.

It has been a great ride. When the news of the day was full of fodder for the column, the hardest part of the job often was choosing what to write about. When the pickings were slim I sometimes found myself dangerously close to deadline without a clue, blank computer screen staring back at me, cursor blinking and clock ticking. Scramble time.

Putting smiles on faces of readers was a big part of my mission in the weekly endeavor. Sometimes the attempt succeeded. At other times, not so much. As former sportswriter Jack Moran, the first BDN managing editor I worked for, often told reporters, “You can’t expect to hit a home run every time you step to the plate.” There was always next week, and the opportunity to have another go at it.

Perhaps the column that drew the most positive public response was built around a joke that I borrowed from a friend and gussied up before passing on to readers. It concerned a fictional lady skier at Sugarloaf Mountain who had a memorable experience while attempting to answer an urgent call of nature atop the mountain. Amazingly, some 30 years later I occasionally hear about that one when I meet longtime readers in my travels.

Among many other subjects that provoked great reader response: my contention that there is no such thing as a squirrel-proof bird feeder, the state’s annual moose hunt frenzy, tributes to military veterans on their holidays, periodic rants concerning grammatical blunders and ambiguous newspaper headlines and speculation as to precisely where Down East can rightfully be said to begin, and end.

There are things about the business of writing a weekly column I shall miss. The contact with sources, and the research before sitting down to write. The challenging final edit and polishing of the prose. The relief when the piece is done and has been shipped off to Bangor at the touch of a computer key. Subsequent reader reaction, positive or negative. That sort of thing.

What will not be missed is the Friday night sleeplessness when something I have written for the Saturday morning paper seems in 2 a.m. hindsight to be a little over the top — or, worse, possibly inaccurate — there being no way to stop the presses and turn back time so I might have a do-over. It is an experience I suspect is familiar to columnists and editorial writers the world over.

Let the record show that those stalwarts who toil in anonymity on the newspaper’s copy desk have saved my bacon on more than one occasion when I have called late at night to request a change in my copy. I thank them, as well as my primary handlers — the various editors of the editorial pages over the years — and newsroom managers who have aided and abetted my efforts.

But most of all, I thank the readers of Maine’s favorite daily newspaper for decades of loyalty, support and encouragement. And for your wit and charm in setting me straight when required.

Back in the day, reporters traditionally signaled the end of their stories by writing “-30-” below the last typewritten line on the final page of their copy, a practice rarely followed today. My dictionary defines the symbol as “a sign of completion: end.” Use of the device would seem to be a swell way for a former ink-stained wretch to mark the end of his final piece of writing in this fast-paced computer age, one anachronism to another.

Why 30, and not some other number? I’ve heard multiple theories, but none you’d want to bet the farm on.

Sounds like fodder for next week’s column.

Oh, wait…

— 30 —

Retired columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His email address is maineolddawg@gmail.com.

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