Since coming to LaGrange Daily News more than two years ago, I’ve probably written close to a million words. That’s my estimate, guessing that I’ve written — on average — two stories for every edition at about 750 words each. To put that into perspective, there are about 780,000 words in the King James version of the Bible.
Today, I’m writing my final words for the Daily News. I’m leaving to take a features writer position with The Brunswick News on Georgia’s Atlantic coast. I start Monday.
I probably could have written a million more words about our small community in west central Georgia. LaGrange is a place rich in history and future. Over the coming months, the community will see its downtown transformed with the addition of a new hotel, a massive water park spring up from the ground near the interstate, and in the coming years, a complete metamorphosis of Hamilton Road.
LaGrange is a city on the move. By no means am I leaving because I don’t love the community or the people here — I do. I suppose I’m leaving out of a sense of adventure. I don’t know a single soul in Brunswick, and to be honest I’ve only been there a handful of times. Yes, I know it’s hot. Yes, I know there are gnats and, yes, I know there are paper mills. Believe me, I’ve been warned. I’m undeterred. It will be exciting to move to a new place and discover new places and people. At age 31, I’m ready for it.
That said, LaGrange has had its fair share of excitement in the time that I’ve been here. I have, at times, been deeply touched by the stories and people I’ve encountered here.
I remember traveling with a group of area residents to Selma, Alabama, last year for the 50th anniversary of the so-called “Bloody Sunday” beatings at the Edmond Pettus Bridge. I’ve never seen so many people in one place in my life. Police later estimated there were more than 100,000 people crowding the bridge and the tiny, grid-patterned streets of Selma. I was profoundly impacted by the experience, hearing stories of segregation in LaGrange, and the struggles of young African-Americans who live here today.
“It’s like my blackness wasn’t enough for them,” one young African-American girl told me when she explained people compliment her because she “acts so white.”
I remember watching Thomas Lee, who killed his entire family in January of last year, plead guilty in superior court. I will never forget the testimony of the surviving relatives as Lee sat weeping next to his court-appointed attorney. Our editorial staff at the Daily News took an unprecedented step in the next day’s paper. We wiped the whole front page clean and started from scratch, doing our best to honor the victims’ memory. Five black-and-white photos of the victims spanned the page below a purple ribbon (two of the victims’ favorite color) and a quote from a victim’s mother. A “monster,” she called him. “A nightmare that can never be woken up from.”
There were moments of joy, too. I was in the woods in rural Troup County when LaGrange Police Officer Wendy Bryant was reunited with her K9, Chico, a few years ago. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen someone so happy. After all, Chico was feared dead. The resurrection was a moment of jubilation, not just for Bryant, but for the community as a whole. After I wrote that story, a Callaway Elementary School teacher asked me to come speak to her class about storytelling. It was thoroughly enjoyable.
I don’t know what Brunswick has in store for me. I’ve learned in this business not to predict the unpredictable. I do hope that I’ll find a community as fertile for storytelling as LaGrange is.
I want to thank you all for reading the Daily News. I hope you have enjoyed this journey as much as I have. God bless and good luck.
With that, these are my last 679 words.
Tyler H. Jones is a now-former reporter for LaGrange Daily News.