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The Untimely American Death of a Man Named Joe

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
MARIETTA, Ga. -- Because it is syndicated, by nature this column attempts to connect with a diverse national readership. And while the subject of this "untimely death" is about a very specific community and their loss, it meets that "national test." After all, what's more American than a man named Joe?

Wherever you live, someday your time on Earth will come to an end as the endless cycle of life continues its march through time. But imagine if you were still relatively young and had children in high school or college. Imagine that you were in the prime of your life and at your highest point in your career. Then imagine that out of the blue you were bluntly told that you had only a few weeks to live. No operation could spare you. No hope for an experimental treatment. Just a matter of days to say your goodbyes.

The town of Marietta, Georgia, is a unique one. Just outside of Atlanta, it enjoys the advantages of being part of a large, modern metro area. But to visit its town square, its shops and restaurants, and to see the American flags that fly in abundance, the town seems more like something from the beloved late-1950s. In Marietta, churches still abound, civic clubs are numerous, and people know and actually care about one another.

And central to all of that is the city's daily newspaper that next year will celebrate its 150th anniversary.

In small- and medium-sized towns, the daily paper still matters. There is no Internet substitute that can keep a tightly bound community informed of who received the award from the local civic club or give a blow-by-blow account of how the local football team won their Friday night game.

And at the center is the person whose job it is to be the "voice" of the community -- the editorial page editor. In cities like Marietta (and there are still more cities like it than some might think), the opinions of the paper and others who run on its pages still have a mighty impact on the community.


So, imagine you are that editor. Your paper has survived and is flourishing after the Great Recession. Your children are growing up before your very eyes. You've just written a book about the history of a local landmark that the entire town has read. In July you join your family on the town square to see old-fashioned fireworks. At Christmastime you help out with church and civic efforts to help the needy.

That's where a man named Joe Kirby was just weeks ago. He and his family had joined other members of his church to travel abroad in the past year. He had increased his involvement at that nearly 150-year-old paper, The Marietta Daily Journal, after his former boss and publisher passed away and as a whole new generation from the late-publisher's family moved up to propel the institution forward. He was the American Joe living the American dream.

And then that news. No doubt. No hope. No way to even delay the inevitable. A uniquely inoperable and untreatable tumor.

How would you handle that? As for me, I doubt it would be a pretty sight. And for Joe Kirby, who was only 60 years old, and a very young-looking 60 at that, I can only guess that the news was devastating.

But to the outward world he handled his true "death sentence" with a courage and a calmness that few in his circumstances could have mustered. Those who visited or spoke with him were amazed at his openness and serenity.


Perhaps the inspiration for the brave and almost peaceful way this everyman's local editor faced certain and swift death could be found in all of those civic groups, churches, Fourth of July firework displays and that town square with its American flags.

In the end, he was all of that, inextricably part of an America that seems to be slipping away -- an America and an American town he believed in. Joe was no one famous, just a symbol of a profession that influences every single citizen. A symbolic hero.

Heroes don't always carry guns or swords. Sometimes, a hero relies on a pen. That pen is now passed on to so many editors of so many other American newspapers, a gift from an editor named Joe.

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