I grew up in Oregon. A career opportunity beat on my door in late 1983. The knock on the other side of that door came from a former boss of mine, Ben Hansen, who had gone on to become executive editor of the Beaumont Enterprise in the Golden Triangle region of Texas.
I had been a full-time journalist for about seven years when Hansen called with an offer for me to come to Texas to interview for a job as an editorial writer for the Enterprise.
He told me over the phone that Beaumont was a fabulous “news town,” that there was much happening there and that as editorial writer, I would be perched in the “catbird seat” from which I could comment on the issues of the day.
Hansen hired me and I started working there in April 1984.
Ben Hansen was so very correct about Beaumont, about the liveliness of the news there.
My culture shock was fairly profound as I packed up from the community I knew well, Portland, and headed for a whole new environment. Beaumont was a world away from what I knew. Adding to the stress of that change was the absence of my wife and my still-young sons; they stayed behind while my wife sought to sell our house. They joined me later that summer, just in time for the start of the school year.
However, a couple of things happened to relieve me of the stress of being without my family.
One was the amazing pace of news that unfolded that spring. Beaumont is a racially diverse community, roughly 50 percent white and 50 percent black. The first month of my employment at the Enterprise featured an election that resulted in the election of an African-American majority on a newly reconstituted Beaumont Independent School District board of trustees. Also on the ballot was a referendum to rename a major Beaumont thoroughfare after the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
The street renaming effort failed narrowly. The new BISD school board took office amid a palpable sense of tension in the community. Beaumont was late in the school integration game. A federal judge ordered the merger of the Beaumont and South Park school districts; the “old” BISD was mostly black, while the South Park district was mostly white.
Tension anyone? They had it!
Ben Hansen’s description of Beaumont was spot on. I was thrilled to be part of it, to watch it up close and to be able to offer some commentary that sought to lead the community through its travails.
The second aspect that lessened the impact of missing my wife and sons was the amazing embrace I received from my colleagues at the Enterprise. They knew of my circumstance. They went out of their way to include me in their after-hours fellowship.
The friendships I developed among many of those individuals are among the most solid I have forged with anyone I’ve ever met over my many years on this Earth.
My love for them is deep and is indelible.
We all shared a love of our craft and we would laugh and occasionally argue over what that day had brought.
Man, it was more fun sitting in the catbird seat than I ever deserved.