Legacy of a reporter and a good man
The legacy we live is the legacy we leave. Life and eternity offer us no alternative.
I don’t like speaking of John in the past tense. It’s the same with my coworkers here at The Citizen and I can only expect it’s the same with those of you who know him ... knew him. Yet we are left with no choice in the matter.
Coming from a family history steeped in journalism, reporting was what Munford knew and it was what he loved.
In my 10 years of working with Munford at The Citizen, I saw that he never failed to be helpful, and he was always quick to pass along the institutional knowledge that he had amassed over the years. That kind of knowledge is irreplaceable.
Sometimes Tyler and Katie would be with Munford at work, after school or when they didn’t feel well. Munford didn’t have to make sure they were well-behaved. They just were – a testament to the way John and Marilyn raised them. And in truth, Katie and Tyler were always more well-behaved than the rest of us in editorial.
So what is the legacy of this “newspaper man” that remains after John left us so abruptly?
Munford was the kind of guy who would quickly go out of his way to lend a hand, with anything. He was someone who was there to help. I relied on that help more times than I can count.
The thing about Munford is that he was always there. No story was too big or too small. Every story he wrote was invested with forethought and with an eye toward not just the obvious, even though that is what often catches a person’s attention, but toward those things that are sometimes not quite visible. And picking up on the “not quite visible” is not learned in a journalism class and cannot be attained through experience. It’s something else. And Munford had it.
Each day in journalism can vary. Sometimes nothing is happening and you can take your time working on a few stories. At other times, everything breaks loose at once, especially on deadline mornings, and you are scattered from pillar to post, gathering information from multiple sources and piecing things together to become the news people will read — the flurry of activity is much like herding cats. It’s enough to drive a rational person over the edge. But not Munford. He was at home and in his element when everything around him was breaking loose.
Journalism is the kind of work where, on a daily basis, you see a little of everything in a community, from the best to the worst. You see it in the reports that come in or in-person at the endless events that make up the life of a community.
And over the years you learn to keep things in perspective, even when someone is bashing you for simply reporting on what was said and done or by heaping on praise as a way of side-stepping a closer look by a pesky journalist.
Munford did a wonderful job in assessing both sides of that coin and not being caught off guard by either. And I can promise you, walking that tightrope of perspective is not as easy as it might seem.
Over the years, those of us in our little newsroom had occasion to discuss hundreds, maybe thousands of topics, large and small, many of which ended up on the front page and many more which didn’t even make the paper. But discuss them we did, with Munford in the middle of the fray. He could always be counted on to offer an opinion or provide insight on an issue.
It is during some of those discussions that the conversation can sometimes get funny, or even outrageous. And that is where Munford could be found in true form, with a loud laugh while proclaiming that someone’s comment qualified for another “Overheard in the Newsroom” posting on a journalism website. And, of course, Munford came up with his share of those quotes.
Yet in the end, after his last report had been posted on our website just hours before his passing, Munford was still in his element. And as Joyce and I gazed upon his face some hours later, the look on Munford’s face was that of someone in a deep, peaceful sleep.
To possess a natural curiosity and to display the willingness to see beyond the obvious is the mark of a real journalist. This is who John Munford is, and who he was. And as he would sometimes say, “I’m a newspaper man.” Indeed he was.
Munford’s impact at this newspaper and on the community he covered cannot be measured in words, but rather by the extent to which he chronicled, in pictures and in words, the community he loved. That impact is irreplaceable. And so is Munford.
Talk is cheap unless it is followed by action. That is why the only real way to make a difference in life is to be the difference in life. So the legacy Munford leaves is that of a man who truly loved his family and loved the work that was his calling. And, in a still wider sense, he made a difference in the community he dearly loved.
I miss you, Shooter.
[Ben Nelms covers Fayette and Coweta counties for The Citizen.]