Tuesday, July 21, 2009

My last column: July 16, 2009

It's time to move on. I guess that's what it comes down to.

I'm stepping down as co-publisher and executive editor of Times/Review Newspapers effective July 22. The following Monday, I'll start in my new role as vice president for external affairs and foundation at Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead.

There are myriad reasons why I decided to venture forth through this open door, not the least of which is my inability to resist an open door. For me, this open door represents new challenges and new opportunities for personal growth doing good work for an organization whose mission I believe in. It's not unlike what attracted me to Times/Review: the opportunity to do good work for an organization whose mission I believe in.

A lot has happened in the decade since I penned my first op-ed piece as a columnist for the Riverhead News-Review. In 1999, Bill Clinton was in the White House and Vinny Villella was our town supervisor. The iPod changed the way we listen to music, and social networking Web sites changed the way we interact with family and friends. Terrorism changed the landscape of our lives, from the small stuff like removing our shoes in order to board an airplane, to big things, like sacrificing some basic freedoms in the name of national security.

We survived Y2K and recovered from the tragedy of 9/11. We've elected new leaders, fought in new wars and tried our best to make sense of the rapidly changing realities of our times. The world today is a different place.

A decade is a long time. And yet, it seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. Ten years ago, my daughters, now entering their senior year of high school, were just starting first grade. For them, this decade marked the transition from training wheels to driver's ed. In 1999, my hair was still brown. (Yes, there's a connection there.)

A lot has happened in and to Riverhead in this last decade. The face of western Route 58 has changed dramatically, with the build-out of the "destination retail" zone created in the town's master plan -- also finalized and adopted this decade. During this time, the town's population has grown by more than a third. The "old Riverhead" is being swallowed up, replaced by new residents, new businesses, new opportunities and new problems. Downtown Riverhead is a poignant symbol of this phenomenon. Already entrenched in a deep decline a decade ago, downtown has since lost its longtime "anchor tenant" (Swezey's Department Store), hit bottom and (we can only hope) is poised to reinvent itself.

Then again, a lot has not happened in or to Riverhead in the last decade. And that's as much a part of Riverhead's story as anything else. The Suffolk Theatre is still dark, with each passing year of disuse bringing it closer to a date with the wrecking ball. The potential for economic development at the former Grumman plant in Calverton is still largely untapped. And we still have to leave town to see a movie. But it's not all bad. A lot of development has been averted thanks to land preservation efforts by town and county officials -- and the success of the local wine region.

Since I accepted Troy Gustavson's invitation to make a home for myself here on Page Nine -- reluctantly, too, because I didn't think I could come up with an opinion about something each week -- I've written close to 500 columns. They've touched on all sorts of subjects, political and personal. And, though I've also been a feature writer, news reporter, editor and co-publisher for the News-Review, it's this column with which I am most identified, and this column that I'll miss the most as I move on to a new chapter in life.

It's been hard being me sometimes. But I brought it on myself, I know. I've been a spark plug and a lightning rod. When you dish it out, you have to know how to take it, too. I've learned.

I have a few parting observations to make before I go. The paper you are holding in your hands is a community treasure. It and its predecessors -- the County Review and the Riverhead News -- have chronicled life in Riverhead, writing the first draft, sometimes the only draft, of this community's history since 1868.

These pages represent the collective efforts of dozens of people working long and often odd hours to produce our "weekly miracle." For every one of us, it's a labor of love. We do what we do because we believe in it. We pour our hearts and souls into it every week. And we do good work, warts and all.

But this newspaper is bigger than our collective efforts. It's greater than the sum of its parts. It's more than the current staff, more than the current owners, more than the words and the pictures printed on its pages. The Riverhead News-Review is part of the fabric of this community, as it's been for more than 140 years. So may it be for at least 140 more.

I'm honored and grateful to have had some small part in it. Thank you.

copyright 2009 Times/Review Newspapers