McKeithan Column

Published 3:22 am Friday, February 1, 2008

By Staff
Cautionary tale told without regrets
Last week I wrote about my educational achievements at MY FAVORITE SCHOOL, EAST-by-golly-CAROLINA-UNIVERSITY.
Somehow, through all of the obligations — social and otherwise — I survived this FINE INSTITUTION, relatively unscathed. My final GPA gave a numerical value to the term, “underachievement.” (Only the registrar and I will ever know that numeric value.)
By 1987, I think the city of Greenville felt I had overstayed my welcome. I say that, only because the day I packed my white Ford Escort and left (fled) town, I saw the chief o’ police, the chancellor and my girlfriend, all at the city limits shouting a chorus of, “… and don’t let the door hit your (hiney) on the way out!”
Good times.
I put my bachelor of music (yes, music) degree to good use. I became a salesman. I discovered that employers in the field didn’t care about my GPA (like I was going to tell them, anyway) or even if I had a degree. Huh? I worked my tail off for that piece of paper, and you couldn’t care less? You’d better care less, mister — I have college loan payments to make!
I started my career peddling mobile phones in Durham when they were still just a novelty. My customers shelled out $1,500 for this novel device back then. I got out of the dead-end business early because I knew people would have no use for cell phones.
I’m glad you asked.
I don’t know.
There is a period of my life covering the last years of college and my early career that is shrouded in mystery, intrigue and daring do. I reflect back upon hazy recollections and suppressed memories. I get glimpses of my life — like watching TV with bad cable service — but can’t really follow the storyline.
(If any of you “out there” can help me piece together the aforementioned forgotten years — please remain silent. The statute of limitations has expired, anyway.)
I don’t know to what I should attribute this “dark period.” (It was NOT drugs. Honestly, people.) Perhaps, it was the stress caused by trying to make a go of it alone in a tough business. All I know is that when the fog of my life burned off one morning, I was working at the newspaper in Elizabeth City.
How I came to hold a semi-responsible position as advertising director of The Daily Advance is unknown. I remember a nice man who was willing to take a chance on a green kid whom he felt showed promise. (Apparently, my experience in sales was transferable after all!)
After a brief stint in Elizabeth City, I spent the next 20 years working to get to the big time here at the WDN. I think that’s called a “meteoric career rise.” All of that effort, commitment and sacrifice to one day be able to write “doo-doo” in a column — the stuff of dreams.
Though it may sound like it: I have no regrets. After all, ECU brought me from the Sandhills to the Inner Banks, where I hope to remain. The dominoes of life fell quickly and failed to knock me down. Thanks to Providential design, I remain the last piece placed just out of reach in a long line of cascading, life-event dominoes. I am grateful to remain standing and hope to always stay rooted in solid ground (despite myself).
Here’s how the pieces have fallen: ECU led to a “career,” that took me to Wilson … where I met a friend … who married a gal … who introduced me to my future wife … (we were both in their wedding) … we had two awesome sons … (who like the Tar Heels) … we live in my wife’s hometown … thanks to an old newspaper friend … who gave me a job … when I was in need … and brought two families together.
This didn’t happen by accident, folks. How firm the foundation. (I bet your domino chain is just as amazing.)
It has been fun, and liberating, to write about the past. You reach a point in life when you can finally accept that you-is-what-you-is. There’s really no need to keep up appearances. For me, that point is: 44 years, 10 months and eight days. (Hopefully, your “day of acceptance” will come (came?) earlier in life.)
I don’t know how long I’ll continue to write this column, or even remain a newspaperman, for that matter. “It’s been too long already, you fool!” I can hear you say. (Now, is that nice? I don’t think so.)
I figure I’ll be at it for a while longer, at least until my college loans have been paid.
Has there been any negative input from last week’s column (where I confess some “fondness” for a state institution of higher learning, other than ECU)? No, not to my knowledge.
I will talk (briefly) next week about a joke I have written. I have three alternate endings, I’ll share one today, and ask you to send me your own this week (I’ll print the best one in next week’s column).
Q: How many county commissioners does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Seven. Five to do the work and two to say, “Let’s name it the Democrat light bulb.”
Thank you. I’ll be here all week.
Ray McKeithan is associate publisher of the Washington Daily News. If you have any questions or comments about column topics or content and operations at the WDN, please send an email to: or call 252-940-4205.