All are better for Patsy’s efforts

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, April 22, 2012

Many of you read a column in last Sunday’s DAILY LEADER by Sid Salter about the retirement of two longtime figures in Mississippi journalism history – Patsy Speights of The Prentiss Headlight  and David Hampton of The Clarion Ledger.

     I know both of them well and have known them for years. David grew up in Amy’s hometown of Dyersburg, Tenn. As a boy, David was the newspaper carrier who delivered the local newspaper to Amy’s house.

     We enjoyed knowing David and his wife, Peggy, over the years as we crossed paths. While we did not always agree on politics, David’s voice will be missed by Mississippi, for he kept us balanced.

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     Patsy’s voice, too, will be missed. Patsy was part of our newspaper family as she ran our newspaper in Prentiss. She did so for 25 years and was my right arm.

     We guided each other in the ups and downs of community journalism. She did it all: covered meetings, wrote news stories, sold advertising, laid out the pages and made sure the papers made it to the post office each week on time.

     She was epitome of the Norman Rockwell painting of a small town newspaper editor.

     In Prentiss on Thursday, we had a community-wide reception for Patsy to celebrate her efforts in Jeff Davis County since 1987. The sanctuary and fellowship hall of the Prentiss United Methodist Church were packed for more than three hours as well-wishers gathered to honor and thank Patsy for her efforts to tell the community story and record its history.

     Properly telling a community story means sometimes stepping on toes. Over her 25-year career, she stepped on many, from city hall to the school board and, in particular, those of the county board of supervisors.

     For over an hour, community leaders reminded Patsy of those sore toes but also thanked her for watching over their shoulders.

     “You know,” one told the crowd. “You being here made me a better supervisor because you made me realize I could do a better job than I was doing for our community.”

     Another Prentiss leader commented that small town newspapers are many times thought of as the place where the comings and goings of the garden club are reported, the accomplishments of football teams on Friday night are documented and the obituaries of local residents are found. But, he added, community newspapers like the Headlight , are also the only place where, “those of us in city and county government are kept in check … community newspapers are our watchdog.”

     In 1987, with very little experience in the business but with a determination to do learn it and to do it right, Patsy sat down and produced her first edition.

     In those 25 years she put out a fine community weekly, and she has many awards to show for it. She told the Jefferson Davis County area story.

     While she gained the respect of the local community, she also gained the respect of her newspaper peers on a state and national basis. Thursday afternoon, she was presented with citations from both the Mississippi Press Association and the National Newspaper Association.

      In political circles, she also gained the respect of governors as well as congressmen and senators.

     To each of them – peers and politicians – she is known simply as Patsy. No need for her last name, for speaking about Patsy can mean only one person – Patsy Speights, editor of The Prentiss Headlight.

     Patsy made her mark on all of us, and like the Jeff Davis County supervisor, we are all better for it.

     Write to Bill Jacobs at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven MS 39602, or send e-mail to