Monday was my last day at the newspaper, a day I never really thought would come.

The newspaper recently offered buyouts to some of us old-timers, and when a quick check around the community turned up the possibility that I might be useful elsewhere, I opted to step into the next adventure. It’s one of the hardest choices I’ve had to make, and I imagine there’ll be that hint of regret no matter how far I wander.

The newspaper has been a second home of sorts, a clubhouse of mostly like-minded folks committed to the idea of public service. Although the last few years have been stressful due to cutbacks, the quality of people in the newsroom has remained without parallel. My colleagues have never been less than a blessing, and anyone would be honored to work with them.

In a way, that didn’t come as any great surprise. It’s clear from a lifetime of reading newspapers that newsrooms are populated by smart, driven overachievers. Yes, there’ve been a few cranks over 26 years, but they were the lovable sort.

And yes, things are different from the day in 1985 I walked into the newsroom down on North Higgins Avenue and promptly found a bottle of whiskey in one of my new filing cabinets. We’ve cleaned up a lot since then, but there is still a similarity to the days.

The thread that runs through all those years is storytelling. Much, perhaps too much, is made of the storytellers, who have enjoyed a certain cache since people first told stories around campfires in caves. We need our storytellers, of course, but they are nothing but a cheap parlor trick without their characters.

That cast of characters is, in part, made up of people looking for attention – politicians, athletes, entertainers and so forth. I’ve enjoyed the time I spent with those folks for the most part, though I’ve found myself weary of politicians of late, even those I agree with.

But it’s the folks who’ve been thrust into the news through happenstance that I’ve been most drawn to, and to whom I am most appreciative. They have often been the victims of misfortune, crime and disaster. These are people who had no reason to expect a reporter at their door, yet for reasons all their own, they let me into their homes, their families, their private lives.

I could offer them little other than a chance to say what had happened to them. I was honored by the fact that their stories touched readers, but I’ve always felt like it was the characters themselves who deserved the praise too often passed on to the storyteller.

The stories themselves are too numerous to count or recall, but they touched a part of me that I wouldn’t have found without them. To the subjects of the stories, I offer the most humble thanks.

I need to say an extra word about one family who took me into their lives at the worst possible time. Larry Ginnings and Deb Chittick were losing their son, Noah, to brain cancer when I met them. I came at first to simply write about Noah’s friends taking him to a Grizzly football game, but the story became so much more than that. I wrote about the game, but I also wrote about a special graduation ceremony held for Noah at the University of Montana, where he was known and loved by nearly everyone.

Finally, I wrote about his death. Larry and Deb opened their hearts to me, answered the most difficult questions, laid bare their very souls. Those stories, others told me, did some good, gave people a chance to grieve publicly the death of a young man they did not know. That’s good to know.

The gifts Larry, Deb and Noah gave me were a heightened sense of mindfully embracing life and an open door to Noah’s best friends. I am still in contact with a few of those young men, and one of them, Olin Martin, is a priceless friend anyone would be lucky to have.

I walk away from the newspaper a rich man – rich in colleagues and friends, immeasurably wealthy in experience, rich in the life of the community.

I walk away humbled by the grace of it all.

Michael Moore can be reached at 546-2478 or at michaelleemoore@gmail.com.

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