Twenty-nine years and counting

May 22, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

This past Monday was my anniversary, not of my wedding, but of the day when I began working for The Herald-Mail Company 29 years ago. If I had done the same thing for all those years, I might be ready for a straitjacket, but in addition to having at least five different jobs here, I've also had the opportunity to interact with the community in ways I'd never thought about when I was in journalism school.

For instance, I recently worked with a committee of the Hagerstown Exchange Club to read 34 applications - complete with transcripts, personal essays and letters of recommendation - for the club's annual $3,000 scholarship.

What impresses me the most about these young people is the certainty they have about what they want to do with their lives. As a high school senior I had only a vague notion about making a living with my writing. I'm impressed and humbled at the same time. I'm also grateful that the paper has given me the flexibility to be involved in such activities.


There was a tense moment during the second public meeting held May 2 by Interfaith of Western Maryland, the group that began its attempt to seek understanding and tolerance between those of different faiths in a session attended by hundreds at Hagerstown Community College April 11.

On May 2, during the question-and-answer period, a man rose to ask Rabbi Janice Garfunkel how there could be tolerance between faiths when there was Zionist propaganda published in the local newspaper.

Garfunkel had written a letter in which she basically said that peace in the Mideast would come if the Palestinians would embrace it. Confronted with an angry response to her letter, she said - and the other religious leaders agreed - that it was possible to disagree without resorting to violence.

As I sat there, I reflected on the fact that it would be so much easier for all concerned to avoid such moments by staying within their own familiar communities. That they haven't done so is a testament to their courage and makes my own involvement with the group seem small indeed. Thanks to The Herald-Mail for allowing me to use its equipment to create an interfaith mailing list.

I borrowed The Herald-Mail's prestige for another good cause in April, when I was a member of the VIP panel on the annual Parent-Child Center telethon. For several years I've served on the board of the center, a United Way agency that works to prevent child abuse and teen pregnancy with several programs.

Because of the exposure I've been given through the paper, some of the hundreds of people I called that week were generous enough to help us push this year's total above $125,000. Thank you.

I'm also grateful that in recent years I've been involved in a working partnership with columnist Tim Rowland, whose ability to craft columns that are both funny and intelligent reminds me of the work of the late Mike Royko. In addition to what he writes, he does page layouts and helps me navigate the ever-changing twists and turns of the office computer routine. He is, like so many of my co-workers here, a true friend and a great asset to The Herald-Mail.

Writing about people who are down on their luck can be risky. I've been scammed more than once by people who are at the end of their rope because they've burned all their bridges.

But there are also those who really do need help, usually because the nation's antiquated health-care system has forced them to run a bake sale or other benefit to get the treatment they need.

We can't help them all, but by calling attention to their plight, we have been able to do things like helping an uninsured woman get cancer treatment, a pre-schooler get special hearing aids and a family get a special shower stall for their handicapped child. Thanks, Herald-Mail, for allowing me to bring their problems to light.

The Herald-Mail's willingness to allow me to flex my schedule has also made it possible for me to be involved in the mentor program at Hagerstown's Fountaindale Elementary School for the past two years. I have worked with two children during that time and watched the first grow from a shy child who had difficulty reading to a confident youngster who brags that he can read "big books now."

I would not attempt to take credit for that, but I am glad I was along to cheer the successes as they were achieved.

In every job, there is a downside, and in this one it's having to watch at ringside when elected officials let their egos stop them from taking the steps they need to make progress. The Herald-Mail has allowed me to call them on such behavior for a good many years now.

That's not to say that there aren't good and dedicated people in public office. But the temptation is strong to do what will make people like you, as opposed to what you know is right. With luck and my employer's indulgence, I'll be around to try to sort out one from the other for a little while longer.

Bob Maginnis is editorial page editor of The Herald-Mail.

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