John Laird: Last call, and the piano player wants to thank the band

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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After years of planning and months of preparation, I'd like to think of myself as somewhat of an expert on retirement.

But the daunting truth is, next Friday evening I will nervously attempt something for the first time: I'll walk the plank and execute a proud cannonball into the shark-infested sea of retirement. As many of you have done in your retirement, I'll bob back up to the surface, groping for my new life with far fewer deadlines.

When I announced my decision to retire six months ago, a chorus of harrumphs rose among some readers who ghoulishly wished the milestone had been reached much sooner. To them, I offer comfort. Unlike the very dead but still terrorizing Columbia River Crossing (first time I've ever seen people use a corpse as a piñata), I'm no zombie. No, sir, I ain't comin' back. You can keep fighting the return of the crime train if you choose, but I'm moving on to grandkids, golf and hiking.

My decision after consulting friends outside of journalism is to cut the professional cord completely. Never say never, but I have no plans to keep writing columns or take up blogging. As one mentor said, "After 45 years, whaddya have to prove? That you can still do it?"

In retrospect, I suppose my career was built more on quantity than quality, showcasing reliability over finesse. This body of work (thousands of editorials, plus even more columns) will not stand as the magnificent, formal gifts of a classical pianist but rather the nightly ramblings of a piano player on the lounge circuit. My efforts fell far below the level of Van Cliburn, more like those of Count Basie. Yes, a few bouquets were brought to the stage, but most of my time was spent watching customers on the dance floor.

The unending honeymoon

Last call has arrived, and before you head for the parking lot I'd like to thank the folks in the band.

Back in 2003 I won the lottery, professionally speaking, when The Columbian offered me this gig. I worried for the longest time: Surely my new-job honeymoon will end soon. But it never ended, and what unfurled before me were the most enjoyable and rewarding 10 years of my career.

I was working at one of the nation's finest midsize newspapers. I will never take that good fortune for granted, and I hope you never take for granted the advantages of having a locally owned newspaper and website in your community.

Throughout this decade, Scott Campbell has been one of the most supportive, amiable, dignified and respected publishers in this wild and crazy business. And I acknowledge one box that remains unchecked in preparing for retirement: There's no way to replace the friendships that have flourished here at The Columbian, especially in the newsroom.

These folks will hear more from me privately. But my most widespread and public gratitude is extended to the readers and online viewers of The Columbian. You taught me and my wife that there is no better place to retire, no warmer friends to embrace, than what we discovered in Clark County. Working as editorial page editor in the exquisite Northwest has been an absolute blast. I loved every minute of this job, always marveling at how anyone could actually get paid for having this much fun.

Not every man or woman is able to call all of the shots on retirement. I lucked out, and I decided to give six months' notice at The Columbian for three reasons: My mind was made up. I didn't want to get scooped on my own retirement, quite frankly. And my newsroom colleagues and the customers deserve a smooth transition, which takes time.

Several of us have been working on exactly that, and this baton will be passed so smoothly, you'll rush to point out how easy it was to replace the old coot. Fine by me, as long as you remember for a few days how much I appreciate the ways you enriched my life.

I've pondered whether to end these 45 years in abject defiance as in "Braveheart" or in solemn withdrawal as in "Dances With Wolves." The journalist in me wants to keep it simple and real: Thanks for everything.