Saturday, September 01, 2007

Farewell to those who made this space great

Joe Kennedy

Joe Kennedy is routinely named the region's best writer by readers of The Roanoker magazine.

Recent columns

About 11 years ago, Rich Martin, Wendy Zomparelli and I met in Rich's office to brainstorm ideas for a new column. Rich was this newspaper's managing editor, and Wendy was the editor.

The first step was to think of a name. I blurted out "A Cuppa Joe."

We couldn't come up with anything better, so it stuck.

Then we generated ideas for the column's format.

We decided it should have a diverse tone, style and subject matter. We wanted it to be conversational, sometimes humorous and sometimes compelling.

We wanted it to spotlight local people and places and reflect the talk of the town.

We wanted it to provide context for local news, to amplify local issues, to "provoke, periodically," to "touch and instruct, at times," to "give a sense of Roanoke and the core area" and, not incidentally, to draw a lot of readers.

Change comes

The first column appeared Nov. 11, 1996. It examined the effect of new construction in Southwest Roanoke on wildlife in a fast-disappearing patch of woods.

It ended with the line, "The deer could not be reached for comment."

Clever, no?

The last column is this one. A Cuppa Joe concludes its newspaper run today.

In July, The Roanoke Times offered 21 of its employees older than 58 who met certain criteria a "voluntary Retirement Incentive Offer," or, as the whole world calls it, a buyout. It's happening all over the country.

The choice was ours, but the offer would not be repeated. If the company's revenues didn't improve, there might be layoffs in the future, and we could be among the workers laid off.

Regular nourishment

A lot of employees were delighted to take the package.

I held up a finger and checked the direction of the in-house winds, plumbed secret channels to discern the innermost thoughts of the people in charge and got the picture.

When I talked to my accountant and realized I could take some time off before finding my next job, I decided to leave.

Once I got past the chest pains, I felt relieved.

In the past 11 years, probably 1,500 or more of these columns have occupied this space. Except when I've been on vacation or otherwise absent, they have come out three times per week, week after week after week after week after week after week after week.

As I've often told people, "This is the best job I've ever had, and it's ruined my life."

I meant that as a joke. The past 11 years have been wonderful.

How many people regularly receive friendly e-mails from new people? How many hear from readers who challenge their ideas and help them learn? How many get to polish their skills at diplomacy by listening to folks who start out angry and wind up calm?

I wrote A Cuppa Joe not for industry experts or high-priced consultants, but for the people who read it. And you, the readers, responded in numbers greater than I ever imagined.

I thank every person who skimmed this column even once. I thank my late wife, Sharon, for insisting that I take this job, despite my fears. I thank everyone who helped my children and me after she died, with a note, a word or a shipment of cookies.

Thanks to everybody who put me on to good stories to pursue. They were my lifeblood.

And thanks to The Roanoke Times for allowing me to spend 36 of my 59 years meeting people, talking with them and writing about them. I am indebted to everyone I ever worked with, especially the copy editors, who saved me from many a gaffe.

I also want to recognize the employees from other departments who are leaving. They receive little or no public attention, but without them, this business could not operate, and people like me would never be heard.

What about the future?

I plan to live in this area, travel a bit, write, spend time with my kids and find another job.

If you'd like to stay in touch, my e-mail address is cuppajoekennedy@gmail.com. My blog address is cuppajoekennedy.com.

From time to time I will publish stories there.

I hope you enjoyed my efforts, and I hope you realize that you gave me more than I ever gave you. Peace and love to you all.