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Fifteenth FOCUS marks milestone in many ways

Fifteen years ago, our newspaper staff committed to an annualproject to bring our readers a very special edition – one thatfocuses on the accomplishments of the people and communities herein Southwest Mississippi. We called the special edition FOCUS – aname chosen to summarize its purpose.

In each of those special editions, we have tried to put aspotlight on the best and brightest of this area. While somestories have been informative or historical in nature, others havebeen inspirational as individuals or groups shared their ownefforts to make life just a bit better for those around them.

The headliner of FOCUS each is our Citizen of the Year andUnsung Heroes. Nominated by our readers, these individuals emulatethe selfless volunteerism of community spirit which makes our areaso special. Inside this year’s edition, a story reflects on each ofthe recipients who have been honored during the past 15 years.

Hurricane Katrina no doubt impacted us more than anything in ourarea’s history. With the focus of media attention on thedestruction on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the New Orleans area,the effects on Southwest Mississippi were also monumental in adifferent way. Although the winds of Katrina had their effect here,it was the masses of evacuees who appeared on our doorsteps thatbrought out the best in our community. It is said at one pointLincoln County alone had over 10,000 individuals seekingrefuge.

While there are countless local citizens who came to the aid ofthose visitors, giving hours upon hours of time and effort, thereis one individual who repeatedly was mentioned by nominees as theone person who symbolizes the entire Katrina relief effort. Hisselflessness, willingness to go the extra mile, along with hisleadership abilities which were instrumental in keeping it alltogether, symbolize the community spirit The DAILY LEADER Citizenof the Year is required to represent.

We are proud to highlight Brookhaven-Lincoln County CivilDefense Director Clifford Galey as our 15th Citizen of theYear.

While Katrina hit this area hard, its after-effects hit thestaff of The DAILY LEADER both personally and emotionally. Theprocess to produce FOCUS takes almost four months of almostendless, tireless, effort to meet the additional 117 deadlines.Those deadlines are on top of the normal daily deadlines ofproducing a newspaper six days a week.

With Katrina bearing down on the Gulf Coast last August, ourstaff began working to cover the unfolding story and produce anewspaper each day. We only missed one issue: Monday, Aug. 29.

Our Katrina coverage effort continued four more months straightinto FOCUS. Already two people short in our newsroom and one shortin our advertising department, as well as one manager short in ourcirculation department, the entire staff buckled down to pull thisyear’s edition together.

Then Katrina II hit The DAILY LEADER!

I called it the Perfect Storm. Two of our staff members hadpersonal issues, which required immediate medical attention and inboth cases resulted in surgery. Thankfully, following successfulmedical treatment, both are healthy and doing well and, remarkably,were back to work on FOCUS a number of weeks later.

With a project of the size of FOCUS, on top of an effort thesize of covering a Katrina, newspaper publishers begin to, well,worry!

On top of the staff shortage, three key managers were FOCUSrookies – very capable but still rookies. While I had faith in themand staff, the realities of things not within our control, such asequipment failures or even a head cold, made for several sleeplessnights.

But with the help of the good Lord, and the extremely hard workof a very dedicated staff, the newspaper you are holding today hasbeen produced ahead of schedule! It was the hardest one we everproduced, but also the easiest one in terms of staff pullingtogether as one.

As I told the staff Thursday morning during a meeting, thisyear’s FOCUS – while a milestone at our 15th edition – is too amilestone in the example of what can be accomplished when underadversity, people come together for a mutual cause.

Today’s DAILY LEADER comes with a great sense of collectiverelief of the staff, knowing we put our best effort forward andsucceeded!

We hope you enjoy this 15th annual edition of FOCUS. It is avery special one indeed!