Editorial: the center of the world

I got my first job in journalism here in Rappahannock County. It was on a weekly newspaper, but it wasn’t the Rappahannock News. It was The Stuart News in Martin County, Florida. How’s that?

The man who had recently acquired The Stuart News had a place in Rappahannock, a farm called Hawthorn, if I remember right, near Woodville. His name was Walker Stone, the remarkable and wise editor-in-chief of Scripps-Howard Newspapers. Originally from Oklahoma, he lived in Washington, D.C., where the newspaper chain was headquartered. Rappahannock was his retreat. When he died, in accordance with his wishes, his ashes would be scattered on his farm here.

Fresh out of college, I was introduced to him by a “friend of a friend” here in Rappahannock. Mr. Stone summoned me to his offices in Washington, D.C., hired me on the spot, then sent me down to Florida the very next day. “I knew you would make a good newspaperman,” he confided years later, “because you never once asked what kind of salary you would make.”

Rappahannock County has a unique way of bringing people together (plus their interests, ideas, and dreams): like an old-fashioned matchmaker, more substantive than a dinner party with “fascinating people,” more “connected” than Facebook or social networking or “affinity marketing” sites on the Internet.

Yes, Rappahannock is fertile ground — not just for agricultural pursuits but for dreams of all kinds, whether wild or not so wild. My dream, on graduating from college 40 years ago, was to write. To get paid to write meant becoming a newspaperman. Not a journalist — that sounded too grand. But I did have grand ambitions — to become a foreign correspondent.

To realize that dream, a weekly newspaper was the place to start, Walker Stone told me: “A good local reporter makes the most thoughtful correspondent on the world stage, for understanding the human nature that drives a candidate for School Board explains the psychology of a Politburo member vying to become Soviet Premier.”

Worldly-wise Roger Piantadosi, the new editor of the Rappahannock News, also got his start at a weekly newspaper — not in Florida but in his home state of New Jersey. From there, he eventually graduated to The Washington Post, where he served as Weekend editor and the Travel Section’s “Escapes” editor. From that perch, he got to know all the very best places in the region. And of those, he and his wife chose Rappahannock for their own personal “escape” — their full-time home since 1999. So it is that he brings to the job a unique mix of solid, big-time journalism with a well-researched appreciation for what makes Rappahannock special.

Like most newspapers, the Rappahannock News has had different editors over the recent years. One of those whose professional footsteps Roger follows is Sharon Stone Kilpatrick — the daughter of Walker Stone.

Yes, it’s a small world. And all is right with that world, as long as Rappahannock is at the center.

Walter Nicklin

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