It was my first public speaking engagement of this kind, and although I had prepared with notes, I was extremely nervous.
Having won the Bill Minor Award, one of the top state journalism awards, I was confident in the knowledge I had surrounding my work and the newspaper business.
But the idea of conveying that to a large crowd of people frightened me. My stomach was in knots. My hands were sweaty. And my mind began to race as I took my seat on the panel.
But then I looked out into the crowd and saw a familiar face. Grinning from ear to ear and waving was Mr. Norman Mott, former owner and publisher of The Yazoo Herald.
I immediately smiled back, and then…my nervous state disappeared. The fact that Mr. Mott made the journey to see me speak that day meant so much to me. He even recorded my entire speech for me.
During my presentation, I made reference to Mr. Mott, identifying him in the crowd.
“It was Mr. Mott who told me that this profession is more than just a job,” I said. “He told me once you get the ink on your hands, you can never wipe it off. And he was right. I live by that code every day when I report to work.”
Mr. Mott smiled and gave me a thumbs-up. And all was well inside the auditorium for me the remainder of the presentation.
I was deeply saddened about the recent passing of Mr. Mott. In our work, obituaries and community members passing are always emotional to write and cover. But Mr. Mott’s passing really made my heart sink to the bottom of my stomach.
He was a pioneer, a true newspaper man, a Southern gentleman, a mentor and my friend.
I had the privilege of interviewing Mr. Mott in his home about his service in the armed forces during World War II. He opened his home and his life to me that afternoon. And with coffee and a smile, I recorded his story.
Little did I know; he was interviewing me too. It must have been the journalism in his blood, but he seemed genuinely interested in finding out where I came from, my family, where I went to school and, most importantly, why I entered the journalism field.
Retired and out of the business, Mr. Mott was still addicted to his craft. And it was a craft he excelled at. Looking back on his work in The Yazoo Herald’s archives, he was good and fair writer. And he loved people, his community and the press.
Working in the same building that Mr. Mott worked in years before can be intimidating sometimes. It is almost like you have a lot to live up to. You don’t want to disappoint your past leaders, and you want to do the job well for the community you serve.
But Mr. Mott constantly told me that he thought I was doing a good job at The Herald. He knew the challenges that come with the business, and he always gave me advice of how to handle certain situations.
Almost 15 years into the business, I considered Mr. Mott an excellent and caring mentor; a mentor who I respected and admired.
I will be heading to the Mississippi Press Association annual conference this weekend, and I will be thinking of Mr. Mott. He was an instrumental leader in the organization and always answered the call when needed.
Hopefully, I will win some awards this year. And hopefully, I will be able to hang them on my wall to remind me of why I do what I do professionally.
I could only wish I could look in the crowd and see Mr. Mott’s smiling face. But I know if I look up to the heavens, he can still see me.