Editor's Note: The Richmond Times-Dispatch has canceled Randy Fitzgerald's 18-year column. Editors did not publish his final installment last week. Here it is:
Eighteen years, four months, three weeks.
Nine hundred and fifty-seven columns.
I have never missed a week of submitting a column, though two were turned down as too political. I wrote them sick or well, even on vacations with a laptop, in the offices of hotel managers, at storefront computer places, in the car. I faxed them in. I e-mailed them in. I phoned them in. I always felt I was writing a letter to a friend. This is the last one.
I learned last week what I had been expecting for awhile, given all the changes under way at the Times-Dispatch: My column was being dropped. I've always been a freelancer, so I'm an easy person to let go. My space will apparently be filled with hard news.
It's been fun. At one point the column had a name, "Close to Home," and that heading defined it as well as anything ever could. I've always written about home and family, friends, neighbors, and this city I love -- always trying to capture with humor and understanding some of the universal experiences of the various stages of marriage, child rearing and a working man's life.
My children grew up in this column, my wife turned gray in this column. I lost my hair and two inches in height in this space. My picture has morphed from that of a 220-pound, apple-cheeked beefeater to my current status as a 148-pound vegan, a change wrought not by soulful conversion but through conversations with my arteries.
I began the column in 1988 in The Richmond News Leader and then moved with it to the Times-Dispatch when the two papers merged in 1992. When I gave speeches in those early days to various groups around town, I was always too nervous to eat the meals that were usually my payment for speaking. Nowadays, after more than 500 such speeches, I have no such trouble. But sadly, 18 years older, I have slipped over into occasionally forgetting about a scheduled speech altogether, leaving an audience of seniors on one occasion no doubt stomping their feet and clapping rhythmically as they waited, fruitlessly, for me to show up. I apologize. When I come for the make-up speech, I guess I'll have to call myself the former Randy Fitzgerald.
I've loved my readers, especially receiving their letters, calls, e-mails and meeting them in person. That's the real "interactive" journalism. Maybe we can keep in touch, though, through a blog I'm starting at http://randyfitzgerald.blog.com.
If you've been a reader, you know I'm a saver. I have every one of the e-mails and letters. Every Christmas I pick 10 or 12 from the boxes in the spare room and send out cards to those folks. The most constant theme in the mail has been "your life is exactly like my life." That's what I've always thought, too.
In 18 years, I've heard -- believe it or not -- from only a handful of disgruntled readers, one of them coincidentally, just last week. "Why do you always write about your wife?" he wrote. "You must be the most henpecked man in the world."
The day I learned I would be writing just one more column, I wrote this guy a note, telling him I had given much thought to his helpful letter and decided he was right. "As a result," I said facetiously, "I have decided to give up the column I've been writing for 18 years and devote that time to asserting myself as a man. Thank you for your amazing insight and role-modeling."
I thought that was a funny response, but since this gentleman took the time to ask the question, let me answer it as I go out. Yes, Barb has been a mighty presence in this column, and most readers understood that including her has been at least partially my "shtick." over the years. Sometimes she liked it more than other times. The columns were all true, and having Barb along for the journey -- inside the column and out -- adds an awful lot of love and humor to every story.
And after all, sometimes -- like this morning for me -- a body might as well laugh. SClick here for more News and Features