I have been in Brandon since 2003 and have found it to be a wonderful place to live. Working in this community has given me some of the best friends I have had in my adult life. When I moved here, it was like moving home. I'm from a small town and liked that the people of the area opened their hearts and their lives to me before the Brandon & South Shore Times ever opened its bureau doors. I spent the first few weeks of my job driving down your streets and familiarizing myself with places that would become part of my life here.
The down-to-earth people have amazed me by giving so much of their lives. (I would love to name them all, but my editor wouldn't be happy to add another section to the paper today.) We might have a population in the area of more than a quarter-million people, but there is a tight community of philanthropists who don't wear their good deeds on their sleeves. It is a bit of this place that I will always have with me.
The greater Brandon area feels like just the right place to raise a family. When a call goes out to meet a need, the response is overwhelming. Organizations such as the Brandon Outreach Clinic, the Emergency Care Help Organization, Cynthia Pinckney Ministries, New Horizons, Center Place, Everyday Blessings, our local YMCAs, and the Boys and Girls Clubs offer opportunities for those needing everything from health care to entertaining and educating children. I would certainly be in trouble if I didn't mention the Rotary clubs in the area that raise so much money for these organizations — especially Brandon '86, "The Best Rotary Club in the Whole Wide World."
Time and life have a funny way of taking charge. Some people ignore their dreams because they keep pushing them out of the way. I've decided to stop pushing, and in 2009 I will be living in a little village on the North Sea in Scotland.
Scotland is not new to me. In 1974, I planted my feet in St. Andrews for summer school at the behest of my dear mother. God rest her soul. I married a Scotsman who eventually became an American, but I have been back, almost biannually, for 30 years. Both of my sons were christened in Scotland, and the countless visits only cemented my desire to make it home one day. I have longed to move back for many years, answering a stirring that I am unable to explain.
It was sheer coincidence, but nonetheless bizarre, that for four years I was publisher of the paper in Aberdeen, S.D. — so named for Aberdeen, Scotland, the birthplace of John Alexander Mitchell, president of the Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad Co. My youngest son was born there and carries his middle name.
To make things even stranger, before I left South Dakota I was asked to assist in finding a new publisher to replace me, and I did. His name was Adrian Pratt, and he was the publisher in Yankton, S.D. He was born and raised in Scotland. Life is funny.
I have found a comfortable place to leave my career at the Times. I've been in newspapers for 31 years. Six years is not a long time, but it has been a fantastic time, where the people have made this news and information organization what it is today. I had been working for a public newspaper company most of my career. It's the reason I lovingly refer to the Times as "newspaper heaven," where you get to do the right thing for the right reason. I joined them at the end of 2002 to run the Brandon bureau, which was then on State Road 60. Of course, we are now serving the area from our new Riverview office in the Times Building at Winthrop Town Centre.
I have loved it all: the challenges, the successes, the brilliant minds that get a printed product out the door every 24 hours, and the continual, up-to-the-minute news offered at tampabay.com. The Times has a vision of the future. Not being a part of that future is somewhat painful, but I am happy to know I shared the journey.
As Bob Dylan said, "He not busy living is busy dying." I am going to stay busy living a whole new life, but I will never, ever forget the experience and education this community and my company have given me. Thank you for letting me be a part of your lives.
Billie Smith is general manager of the Brandon & South Shore Times. She can be reached at 661-2438.