Ten years ago when I made the trip across the lake from Cumming to Gainesville to become publisher of The Times, I had no idea of the sort of reception to expect from the people of Hall County.
A decade later, I can only say it has been wonderful.
Friday I announced my retirement from the position of publisher, and anxiously look forward to all the new challenges the future will bring. In all honesty, this is a move I would have made a couple of years sooner if the nation’s economy had been a little more cooperative.
For more than 30 years, my life has been interwoven with newspapers. From Sebring, Fla., and Florence, Ala., to Gainesville I’ve worked with others to build relationships with advertisers, produce important news content and work to make communities better.
In that regard I’m really proud of the decade spent at The Times. Over the past 10 years I feel like we’ve worked hard to give the community a newspaper that serves it well, and also one that upholds the longstanding traditions of excellence put in place by the newspaper’s founders, Charles and Lessie Smithgall.
Mrs. Smithgall telling me she was proud of me and what a great community newspaper we had was a highlight of my time as publisher, and perhaps the highest compliment I ever received.
It’s been a great journey here in Gainesville, and I’ve had the opportunity to meet some really fine people along the way. This is an incredible community, one with a real sense of purpose and a commitment to a high standard of living. I’m glad that my job resulted in my moving to Hall County; living here has been a great pleasure.
My grandparents were from here, and I’ve met many relatives during my stay. If their last name is Lawson or Pinson, they are probably kin to me.
While I was publisher, we did a story on Carl Lawson, a cousin, just about a month before he died. I know it meant a lot to him, and it’s something I’ll always remember.
I have a hole in my heart now from turning my pride and joy over to someone else. I had the same feeling about leaving Forsyth County 10 years ago. When I first got here, Phillip Wilheit asked me how long a publisher should stay at a newspaper. I told him 10 years.
Certainly I will miss all of those with whom I came in contact as publisher of The Times, as well as the employees who work so hard to make the newspaper and its website exceptional. As I move to my next challenge, I wish all of them well.
Our nation’s founding fathers understood how important was the concept of a free press, and newspapers remain an important part of our country. As long as there are newspapers like The Times around, our nation will be OK.
During my stint at The Times we started two new newspapers — one in Braselton and one in Flowery Branch — and two magazines, HOME and the soon to debut LAKE. Don’t ever believe it if you hear anyone say “print is dead.”
The newspaper business has been very good to me, and I hope I’ve returned the favor. Now it’s time to see what’s on the next page.
Dennis Stockton is retired publisher of The Times.