EVANS COLUMN: Saying farewell after seven years in LaGrange

Published 4:11 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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When I first had the opportunity to move to LaGrange, I remember driving through the city for the first time. I couldn’t believe how nice it was.

Alyssa was eight months pregnant with Autumn at the time, and we’d come to town to consider a job opportunity with The LaGrange Daily News.

I remember saying, “We could happily spend the rest of our lives here.”

I meant it. Seven whirlwind years later, here we are. I’m leaving.

It still feels surreal to type those words.

I always said it would take an amazing opportunity to pull me away from LaGrange. I think I found it in another newspaper in Northwest Florida, and it helps that we will finally be close to family again.

Alyssa and I have spent about a decade four hours or more from our closest family members. My parents will now live right down the road.

It was a tough decision to leave this incredible place. I leave with some thoughts, probably best laid out in bullet points:

1) I feel like over the years I’ve met so many of you, a great many of you who have supported the LDN for longer than I’ve even been alive. Thank you for all of the conversations, all of the critiques, and the compliments.

2) During my seven years here, a lot has changed. Fewer print editions. More focus on digital readership but a promise to remember our core, our print product, along the way. We’ve become a news outlet focused on meeting you where you want the news — whether that’s traditionally like in print, online, social media, in a newsletter, etc. I do not doubt that all will remain true moving forward.

3) They say the grass is always greener elsewhere. It’s not. I really don’t believe it is. I realize the irony in saying that with one foot out the door, but I mean it sincerely. I think it’s often hard for longtime residents of a community like LaGrange to realize how great it is. There are not many communities that can compare to what we have here — amazing parks, The Thread, an amphitheater and a lake, etc. I can’t wait to see what this place looks like in 5, 10, 20 years. 

4) I’ll argue with people in this community about this until the end of time, but I think the public school system is better than it’s perceived. I’ve written about every test score you can imagine over seven years and have covered most of the school board meetings. Trust me, there are plenty of test scores that I wish were better. But I wrote the sentence above based on my own experience, not test scores. My kids, who are still very young, loved Franklin Forest. Their teachers have been amazing. And Alyssa has been in that school every week for the last year. There are amazing people in our schools.

5) The importance of local journalism in this community cannot be overstated. This newspaper has an incredible staff that I’ve been so thankful to work with over many years. I hope I represented them well. They work very hard to bring you the news, and to help local businesses spread the word about their products. If you want news from Atlanta, watch TV stations. If you want to know what’s going on in Troup County, log on to our website or grab a newspaper. Trust me, 99.9%, of the time we are the only ones at council meetings, commission meetings, school board, etc. And while your cable bill probably keeps rising, we haven’t raised our prices a penny since I started. (We’ve actually lowered them.)

6) Read past the headline! I’ll leave it at that.

7) Here are some of my favorite memories and reflections from my time here:

A. Eating lunch with Guy Longshore, who was one of the nicest people I ever met, and in his 90s was as sharp as ever. In clearing out my desk, I found a folder of pictures he brought me from World War II a few years ago, along with a business card. He bought a camera on a date instead of buying ice cream for his girlfriend. And the pictures from that camera were the proudest accomplishments of his life 70 years later. Guy passed away in recent years, but his legacy lives on through the WWII pictures he took.

B. COVID — what a weird time. Our jobs are always important but in March 2020 it felt like that was magnified by 100. I never want to relive it, but I was very proud of the way we kept this community informed through very difficult times.

C. Both of my children were born in LaGrange at Wellstar West Georgia Medical Center. I’ll never forget holding Autumn and thinking about how much my life had changed in a month. We’d bought a house for the first time, I’d moved to a new place, started a brand-new job, launched a magazine and had my first child. It felt like I was holding the world, and the future was wide open.

D. We don’t like to brag about ourselves. With no offense to broadcasters, there isn’t an ad spot during every other commercial break to remind you how great we are. It’s just not our way. But in 2017, when I took my position, this was a newspaper that was in rough shape. It’d had a few different owners, and its legacy of local news had been frayed. I thought it was a massive rebuild. With the team we had in place, things came along very quickly. And when we won General Excellence in 2018 from the Georgia Press Association, the top award a newspaper could win, I was floored. There’s plenty of work to do here. We’re far from a finished product. But this staff works so hard. I was so proud to be a part of that moment.

E) When four tornadoes hit in the first three months of 2023, it was amazing to see how quickly this community came together to help. It’s hard to believe it’s already been over a year since all of them hit. It feels like yesterday. On Jan. 12, I think we had 30+ posts on our website in a matter of 5 or 6 hours. And the same on March 26. Reporters who planned to work normal shifts ended up working until late into the night. 

This newspaper has been around since 1843. I was so proud to take on and represent all of the people who worked here before me. 

Were we perfect? Absolutely not. But we always did our best.

I will miss LaGrange and Troup County dearly. 

We made this place home.