McKeithan column|Original Washington is a special place

Published 12:17 am Friday, June 5, 2009

By Staff
WARNING: Gushy, syrupy column follows
You’ve got to love a town where the Rotary Club meets at a place called “King Chicken.”
Whether you believe in fate, Divine providence or sheer happenstance; I was destined to settle down in the coolest little town on the planet. The “Original Washington” is fully-stocked with wonderful people, unique landmarks and a spirit as beautiful as the river running through its heart.
Do not fear; I am not running for office. (Though the thought has occurred to me.)
I profess my sincere, abiding love for my adopted hometown. A town that I’m sure must have plans to make me an expatriate on an island where I can’t stir up trouble. (Send me to Ocracoke with a fishing pole and a stocked cooler.)
The first I heard of “Little Washington” was when the McClure family moved to my neighborhood in Laurinburg, North Carolina (another great town) long ago. They came from Washington and their son Bobby soon got “mixed-up with those McKeithan twins.” Believe it or not, I remember hearing good things about this town from the new kid on the block, even way back then.
Ironically, I moved to THEIR neighborhood eight years ago when our family came to town. (They had since returned.) You can imagine their excitement.
I also remember Washington from my college days. I played drums at the Civic Center with the Joe Distefano trio at a jazz concert sponsored by the Arts Council. I thought Washington was a beautiful town with a lot of old people. They were very supportive and clapped loudly after my inept drum solos. (Probably NOT the highlight of Washington musical performances over the years.)
Years later, I became friends with several Washingtonians and soon was introduced to the woman who became my beautiful wife (thank you Karyn Styers). We visited Washington many times and I soon learned why my bride was so proud of her hometown.
Each visit meant fun times on the river and several trips to Bill’s Hot Dogs (I ate six at one sitting, still a Washington record.) I hoped then that we could live here one day. God answered prayers when Brownie and Susan Futrell offered me a position at the WDN and turned me loose on the community at large.
I had the privilege of working closely with Ashley Futrell, beloved icon, and I learned much about the community, its history and its people. I laughed at his stories of the early days of the WDN as we sipped Cokes from little bottles (he had one every day at 2 p.m.) Now I enjoy visits with HIS beautiful wife, Rachel, who fills in the gaps of the good old days with stories of her own.
Too frequently, residents are quick to criticize their hometown, and their local paper. Sometimes it’s deserved. Oftentimes, it is not. I have noticed a genuine connection between this newspaper and the community, unlike any I have observed in other towns.
This is an uncharacteristically serious column from me. For those of you who don’t like sappy sentiment and shared feelings … I suggest you read no further.
I had a phone conversation this week with my sister-in-law about a family health emergency in Laurinburg. (Thankfully, it ended well.)
She described how much it means to her to live in a small town, surrounded by family and friends — and friends of friends. There is a level of comfort, support and connection that makes tough times bearable. We both noted that the closeness of a community also leads to some awkward situations — because everyone “knows your business.”
We agreed that — on balance — the good far outweighs the bad because of the peaceful feeling that comes with knowing you’re all in it together.
This is why I love my adopted hometown. All small towns are similar, but Washington is extra special.
I saw it firsthand during a scary period a few years back when my beautiful wife was near-death with a horrific, rare disease. Two months in the hospital failed to weaken her will to live, and support from this community never waned.
I sincerely appreciate the outpouring of kindness shown to us during that time, and to that being offered to this newspaper family now.
Like I said, we’re all in it together.
To all of you, I am very grateful to be able to say officially, formally and publicly: “Thank you.”
Ray McKeithan ( is associate publisher of the Washington Daily News.