Thanks to Observer readers for a memorable 10 years.
Every so often, a reader calls me to ask what information to include in an obituary.
Usually, they’re preparing it for a family member, but occasionally, I ask the caller who the obit is for, and he or she answers: “Me.”
Right now, I feel a little like I’m writing my own obituary, though for the record, I’m not dying.
I’m moving on from the place I began my career. I’ve accepted a position as an editor for The Penny Hoarder, a website about personal finance and unique ways to make money with about 14 million monthly readers, based in my hometown of St. Petersburg.
I’m excited for the new challenge, but I’m still grappling with this fact: Next week will be the first time in nearly 10 years and three months that my name doesn’t appear in an Observer.
The number of Observer stories I’ve written is surely in the thousands by now, and of those, hundreds have been obits, or life stories, as we often call them.
No matter how many obits/life stories I write, the challenge is the same: So little space, so many stories to include.
As I write, I face the same challenge. No news hole could be large enough to recount all of the memories you’ve given me, the things you’ve taught me and the gratitude I have for this opportunity.
My first day at the Observer was Sept. 5, 2006. I was 23 and fresh out of the University of Florida. Now, I realize that day was only the beginning of my education, and that you, our readers, have been some of my greatest teachers.
I loved all the thank-you notes, emails and phone calls I got from readers when I did something right. But I learned the most when you let me know I’d screwed up.
Take this sentence I wrote as a young reporter about military training on Longboat Key during World War II:
“Fighter jets soared across Sarasota Bay and swooped down on Longboat Key, firing guns and .50-calliber bullets at their targets.”
Duh. Jets, for the most part, didn’t come around until after World War II, and well over a dozen of you called to let me know it.
You gave me more than a history lesson. You taught me: Get things right — the first time — and be sure every word you write you know to be true.
You taught me to seek both sides of everything.
I once reported on an incident of a dog injured during a confrontation with multiple raccoons in Joan M. Durante Park. I got a call from a reader urging me to consider the scene from the raccoon’s perspective and saying I had a pro-dog bias. Guilty as charged, but I guess he had a point.
I’ve made wonderful memories writing about you and the passions you pursue: David Novak, Longboat Key’s unofficial swan keeper for more than a decade; Yusuke Horiguchi, a Japan native who can’t speak Spanish but has performed Latin balero music for more than five decades; and H. Terrell “Terry” Griffin, who has pursued a second career as a mystery writer, making many Key people (including yours truly) into characters in his many books, just to name a few.
If pressed though, I’d say the obits/life stories I’ve written have been most meaningful to me. There were those who were famous in their fields like Mote founder and “Shark Lady” Eugenie Clark, a pioneering woman scientist, and Dr. Robert Morrison, the inventor of the soft contact lens. And just as important, I wrote about people like my late friends framing artist Terry Petesch, who framed a piece of good news he found in the news each week and delivered it to the subject, or Tiny’s owner Sue Vaught, who risked everything to buy her beloved bar. Technically, neither was famous outside of the community, but they made a difference to so many people.
Seldom was writing their life stories a depressing task; instead, after a day of reporting, I would usually look back and say, “Wow. What a life.”
Now, as I say goodbye, I can say that you all have given me endless memories from this chapter in my life.
The best memories you’ve given me have been when you’ve come together — not to bicker at Town Hall, but for good.
There’s no better example than the Longboat Key Gourmet Lawn Party. Chaired by the tireless Michael Garey, it brings the community together for an afternoon of food and drink to raise money for scholarships and local children’s charities.
I’m not done making such memories. Although my final day with the Observer is Dec. 2, I’ll still be there Dec. 3 for this year’s Lawn Party.
I hope to have a drink with many of you there and toast to the times we’ve shared.
Thanks for a great decade.
Robin Hartill is managing editor of the Longboat Observer and the Sarasota Observer.