By Robert Hitt Neil, Syndicated columnist
The Picayune Item
A week ago I gave my editors and publishers their two weeks notice that I was quitting. I have written this weekly syndicated newspaper column for over 25 years now, and it’s time to let someone else take the reins while I ride off into the sunset at Brownspur. I never aimed to accomplish anything with this column, my only goal was for the Reader to feel better post-Neill than pre-Neill. Maybe I did that for some of y’all. If not, I reckon we missed the target.
The Brownspur Bugle began as an outdoor-type article, but quickly became a rural, small-town commentary on raising a family and their friends in the Delta, with a lot of humor and nostalgia in the recipe. At one point we were picked up for national syndication, with the circulation growing to over a hundred papers, but then Mercury Syndications went bust with about nine months of their writers’ pay. I picked up a few dozen of the Southern papers and self-syndicated myownself, though their numbers grew smaller as the economy hit the local newspaper business just as hard as anyone else.
When the re-syndication occurred, I stuck with my original rates from fifteen or so years before, simply because the column business had grown so much easier because of technology. Used to be, I wrote a near-700-word column, made copies for all the papers, folded them and stuffed envelopes, stuck on address and return labels, sealed them, stamped them, and put them in the mailbox. Now, with compooters and the Internet, it’s so much less trouble to just click Send to the list.
Never missed a deadline that I knew of, even in the weeks following the Great 1994 Ice Storm, or the 2011 Great Flood when we moved upstairs, or the house fire that destroyed our publishing business, or the various ailments that have beset me, especially this past few years. Again, technology helped.
Has it been worth it? Not for the money. But I’ve published a dozen books, mainly from ideas generated and developed in the columns, and several have been best-sellers, plus have won a lot of writing awards over the years. One set of columns and two books were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and we optioned one for a movie. The columns also spurred invitations for speaking engagements and led to a short career with Lewis Grizzard’s Speaker’s Unlimited Bureau, until the head man up and died. Plus my old broke back could not stand the traveling.
But it has definitely been worth it because of the Readers’ feedback! I’ve had calls from Lyme Disease victims as far away as Minnesota and Nevada, no doubt hundreds of them over the years. Helping them has been so fulfilling. I’ve also had calls from mothers or fathers whose sons gave their lives in combat, then an article or book would help, in one mom’s words, “Now I understand why he felt like he had to go, and I’m proud of him!” One has to write that kind of softly. A mom from Missouri called once to say that her nine year-old son had explained the Biblical theory of Creation to his buddies around a mountainside bonfire one night, when their counselor, a pro football player, had failed to connect with the Big Bang theory. The kid had read that in my book, The Jakes.
Betsy and I are still in residence out here at Brownspur, and if I have promised you a place around a bonfire in winter, or the Swimming Hole in summer, then all you got to do is give your old Uncle Bob a holler at email@example.com, and I’m good for my promise. That’s Uncle Bob one word no caps, with an underscore behind it. I was Uncle Bob in my LHS yearbook.
Over 25 years, so many Readers have simply picked up the phone to comment on a column, or to relate a similar incident themselves. I will miss that. Some of your papers have opted to continue with a (free) Best of Bob series of Oldies But Goodies, so you may still see me. God Bless you all, as you’ve blessed me over all these years! Thank you for your faithfulness.