Jim Jones' Eastword column finale: After 36 years in journalism, the numbers add up

March 31, 2013 

I'm retiring.

There, I've written the words that my mouth had so much difficulty forming for so long.

What can I say? I have loved the work. Maybe too much, some would say.

Retirement. My last work day at the Bradenton Herald is today.

It's not like it hasn't been done by millions of others -- maybe billions -- before me. And mostly without fanfare.

Somehow, the light bulb never came on and said, "Boy, it's time to go fishing."

I waited for that message, and I waited. But my heart never spoke to me and said it was time to retire.

So, what was the spark? In a word, the calendar. It said I had reached full retirement age, 66.

I've been fortunate to work continuously as a full-time journalist for the past 36 years, especially in recent years when so many fine, talented and dedicated journalists lost their jobs.

Before I got into the newspaper biz, I was on active duty in the Army for nearly 10 years. For the first 11 years of my work in newsrooms, I was also a drilling Army reservist.

I've had two really interesting, challenging sides to my working life.

The Army took me to Fort Ord, Calif.; Ludwigsburg, Germany; Soc Trang, Vietnam; Fort Huachuca, Ariz.; Fort Gordon, Ga., and elsewhere. Through the Army, I went from being a scrawny, socially and economically challenged kid to a light weapons infantryman, and suddenly a 20-year-old second lieutenant.

The Army brought me friends and experiences that I treasure and are always with me. And it also put me in a spot where I found my wife when I least expected it. Love blind-sided me, which is a wonderful thing. We'll be celebrating our 43rd anniversary this year.

Early in my career, my bosses worried I might want to take the staff on bivouac. That never happened, of course.

Newspapers, what a career.

I remember covering the slaying of our sheriff in Clewiston. There were drug plane crashes, where broken fuselages, smugglers' bodies and illicit drugs strewn on the ground were mute testimony to the wages of crime.

There was an opportunity to go out on Lake Okeechobee with members of the Atlanta Braves baseball team and royally tick off pitcher Bruce Sutter by catching the biggest bass.

Always, there were the essentials, too, such as covering the Friday night football games and city council meetings, and writing up the obituaries, the birth announcements and the weddings.

Later on there would be different opportunities, ranging from visiting Vanna White in her dressing room to interviewing Yoko Ono twice, and photographing the Rolling Stones up close.

As the years rolled on, I even got to cover Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton when they swung through Florida. More recent notable memories include flying over the Gulf of Mexico in a hurricane hunter as scientists looked for oil slicks from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, taking a ride on a 1929 tri-motor airplane, and even going up in a hot air balloon over Lakewood Ranch.

Who would want to retire from all that?

But all that was just icing on the cake. I got my greatest charge out of talking with and getting to know local residents and visitors to this area.

Ordinary citizens? Ordinary readers? There has been nothing ordinary about them. All are extraordinary in their own way. Every one is a story. Some are a book. Others are a full set of encyclopedias. That may be a Jonesism, but it's also true.

For all the folks over the years who have helped with their readership, their suggestions and their friendship, a heart-felt thank you. And to my past and present colleagues, it has been an honor working with you. Please stay in touch.

I've carefully avoided singling out anyone for special thanks -- for fear of omissions -- but I would be remiss if I didn't mention three: Sonny Stalls, who gave me my first shot at the newspaper business in 1977; Peter Cardiff, who brought me into daily journalism in 1985; and Joan Krauter, who hired me to work in Bradenton in 1999.

What's next? There are so many options. Work, possibly. A book. Travel. Painting the house.

Life is good. God bless!

James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be contacted at jimandcucjones@gmail.com or tweet @jajones1.

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