Longtime Observer writer bids farewell.
et is moeilijk om gedag te zeggen.
No, that’s not a string of typos. That’s Dutch for “It’s hard to say goodbye.”
And I mean it.
After 15 years with Observer Media Group, my last day is Sept. 16. My family — husband, Andy, and our three children, Elliott, 7; Abigail, 4; and Penelope 2 — and I soon will be on a flight toward our new home: the Netherlands.
My husband has taken a three-year position with an international organization there. I’m not planning to work, at least initially, as we get settled into a new culture, new language and new way of life.
“Wow,” you might say. What an adventure! Indeed it shall be. Truth be told, all we know is where Andy will be working, and beyond that, we have not yet figured out even some of the more important details, such as schooling for our children or where we will live. We’ve discovered those will have to be handled in boots-on-the-ground style. So yes, it’s scary, but we are excited.
However, it’s very hard to say goodbye to my East County family. I’ve now spent almost my entire adult life here watching this community grow and evolve.
You know that thing called Music on Main that happened every first Friday of the month at Main Street Lakewood Ranch, at least before COVID-19 began? Well, I went to the very first one just for fun. Live music and activities — all for free — sounded great to a young, budget-conscious reporter. I told all my friends about it, and the night of the event, we rounded up more than a dozen people to come out for the first-time concert.
Boy, was I disappointed. I think we were the only people there! Honestly, I was a bit embarrassed for having invited friends because the crowd was so sparse. I swore I wouldn’t go back.
You know what happened? Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, which owns Main Street, persisted. Month after month after month, the bands came, and the crowds grew. Now the event raises thousands of dollars annually for its benefiting charities and draws people from across the region. It’s incredible, and each month it happens, I’m reminded to never give up on big ideas or dreams you want to accomplish.
Then I think of community champions like Cathy Woolley, who has fought for a decade to protect fellow residents of Tara from unanticipated development. I doubt any single person knows more about her community — or even about the local government — than she does.
I think of retired New York City firefighter Don O’Leary, who, as a civilian, advocated for expansions of the fire service into Lakewood Ranch as it grew. Or Gail Clifton, who volunteered for more than a decade as an unpaid director for Sarasota Manatee Association for Riding Therapy because of her love of the mission and of horses.
The people I know here are full of generosity, of hope, of persistence, of kindness, of fun. They are my neighbors and my friends.
I hope you know you hold a special place in my heart, even if I cannot name you one by one.
Thank you for sharing your stories and your lives with me.
Over the years, people have asked if I aspired for something greater, such as a writing gig with a big-city newspaper.
My response has always been the same: I never dreamed for that. My dream has been to share stories of the people nearest me — whether children holding lemonade stands or a family overcoming a tragedy — and to educate the community about issues that might impact it.
These are the stories that are most important because they affect you, your neighbor and your neighborhood.
Thank you for making my dream come true.
In the weeks ahead, you’ll begin seeing a new byline — Brendan Lavell, our new East County reporter. I know that you’ll give him the warm welcome you gave me so many years ago, and I know he’s excited to meet all of you.
I look forward to reading about all of your great adventures.