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Holes left by the Cat Herder

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By Carolyn Ten Broeck, Editor

Have you ever known someone who, at times, you wanted to put your hands around their neck and shake them until their teeth rattled? BUT, there were times you wanted to hold that same person in a close embrace and not let go?

That’s been my relationship for over eight years with Chiefland Citizen editor Lou Elliott Jones.

Now that Lou is hanging up the pica pole and proportion wheel (only something old-time newspaper people will understand), I’ll be able to do a lot more of that embracing.

I was the editor in Chiefland back in the day and in desperate need of a reporter.

Very few qualified applicants were interested, and when Lou’s resume crossed my desk, I put it in the “To Be Considered” file, hoping someone else would apply.

I didn’t dismiss it but I came close. Why?

She’d worked for USA Today, for Pete’s sake! Why would someone who’d worked for a worldwide organization want to work in Chiefland?

A few weeks later, I picked up the phone and called her. The phone rang and rang and rang, and just when I was readying to hang up, she picked up, breathless. Our conversation went like this:

Me: Ms. Jones? This is Carolyn Risner from the Chiefland Citizen.

Lou (Panting): Yes, yes! I’m sorry. I’ve been herding cats.

Me (Speechless – I wasn’t sure I’d heard her correctly): Mmm, yes. Well, uh, mmm. You recently (Ha! It had been weeks) applied for a reporter position with us and I wondered if you are still interested?

Lou (Still panting but her breath normalizing): Yes, but not today. I still have cats to herd. Tomorrow?

And so it began.

During the interview, I was concerned about the drive from Raleigh to Chiefland every day even before the work day began, but she assured me it would be fine – she had a Jetta (that didn’t last long). It was sports editor Claude Lewis who pushed me to hire her.

“She’s a chef,” he grinned and repeated. “A CHEF.”

Our fate was sealed.

We had an amiable working relationship in Chiefland and when Tom and I began planning our wedding, Lou stepped in and volunteered to bake both wedding cakes. When we bought our Williston home and needed blinds, she said, “I can hook you up.”

When I needed a to-die-for-dessert to take to my in-laws’ for Thanksgiving, she made her delicious – and beautiful – apple tart and delivered it to me in a real baker’s box.

When I started to pay, she protested, “No, this one’s on me.” In the years since, they’ve all been on her.

It sounds like a beautiful relationship, doesn’t it? Oh, but there have been rough patches.

It seemed like every Tuesday night my newspaper was finished – except for the Lou contributions. How many times I’ve sent pages to the proofer with holes that said “Coming from Lou” is anyone’s guess.

Or the times she told me on Monday she was working on something for that week’s paper, and then come Tuesday evening when I asked for it, she’d get all flustered and admit she’d forgotten. I’d have to scramble at the 11th hour to find something to fit the space I had reserved for her.

Those were the times I wanted to shake her until her teeth rattled.

But like everything else in my life, I’ve weighed Lou’s faults against her assets and it’s not hard to see how her assets outnumber her idiosyncrasies.

When Denise was dying, Lou was there every step of the way to help me be with my friend.

When Tom had two major back surgeries in two years, Lou was always among the first to offer assistance.

She’s always quick to express her concern, celebrate the milestones and pray in the difficulties.

As a journalist, I’d say she’s among the best I’ve ever worked with. She’s a diligent researcher, a hard question asker and a follow-through writer. She’s also a huge networker. She’s made it her business to not only know the people she reports on, she’s networked to the sixth degree all their associates.

As a photographer, well, let’s just say it’s not one of her strong points.

And now Lou is retiring. A wee bit early but nonetheless deserved.

She’s been a news gatherer for almost five decades. She’s interviewed presidents and celebrities, but she’s also been in the ring with the cows at the Suwannee River Fair. How impressive is that?

Next week will be a little more somber, a lot more quiet and there won’t be any holes in the paper that say “Coming from Lou.”

The only hole next week will be the one in my heart.