The lights are still on in Mr. Mott's office

By JASON PATTERSON,

It was one of those Monday mornings where I didn’t dare ask myself if there was anything else that could go wrong.

There had been a storm over the weekend and the server that connects our computers at the newspaper was down. Fixing the problem was complicated by the fact that some of the lights in the building weren’t working either.

I ended up in the warehouse holding a flashlight while looking through the building’s breaker boxes to see if I could find any circuit breakers that had been tripped.

The first thing I noticed was that some of the labels represented days gone by.

There was a label for the darkroom. I don’t know exactly when the darkroom was closed for good at The Yazoo Herald, but it was long gone when I arrived here 13 years ago. I had mastered darkroom work at another newspaper just in time for it to become a useless skill.

There were several labels related to the press, which was also long gone. It’s much less expensive now to have the paper printed at a larger operation. These days we can send the pages electronically to Greenville, and our papers are ready by the time we get there to pick them up.

Then I saw a label that made me briefly forget what I was looking for in the first place.

“Mr. Mott’s Office” was neatly written on the label.

That’s my office now, I thought, and I couldn’t help but stop and think about what that meant for a moment. The honor, and the significant responsibility, of sitting behind the same desk as such a great man suddenly came into focus.

Norman Mott Jr. was a hero to me. He guided this newspaper through some difficult times, and he used his position to be a positive leader for our community. Under his guidance, The Yazoo Herald was a solid community newspaper with a strong editorial voice.

His leadership in newspapers extended beyond Yazoo. He was inducted into the Mississippi Press Association’s Hall of Fame in 1997, and he served as the organization’s president in 1962.

I came across a copy of his speech to the statewide group of journalists a few years ago, and I was impressed with his words calling for calm and peace during the changing times as civil rights issues were coming to the forefront. I wrote him a letter about it after his sister Ann died in 2013.

“Those were trying times for all in Mississippi, and in the main, responsible newspapering was of significance in the successful epoch-making transition of the South. All I can say for now is how fortunate Yazooans are to have the home-grown, dedicated team of Jason and Jamie Patterson directing the news reporting and editorial guidance of their hometown newspaper. I mean it now, and more important, for the challenging future,” he wrote in response.

No one in the world could have said anything to me that would have been more encouraging than that.

That wasn’t unusual for him. He was always one of our strongest supporters. Jamie was invited to speak at Millsaps College in 2017 after winning the Bill Minor Award. I couldn’t be there because I had a previous commitment, and I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to be there to see her speak. Mr. Mott went to the event and sent me videos he took of Jamie speaking.

Jamie spotted him in the audience and shared a favorite quote about the newspaper business where he once told her, “Once you get that ink on your hands, it’s hard to wash it off.”

Mr. Mott was an example of the kind of person I want to be both as a professional and as a man.

On that frustrating Monday morning in the warehouse I eventually flipped the right switches, and the lights came back on.

The lights are still on in Mr. Mott’s office.

He may no longer be sitting behind the desk, but his influence remains. We will always do our best to try to live up to the standards that he set.

Those lights will continue to shine on our community as long as I have anything to say about it.