Published in the Rains County Leader on April 2, 2019:
A spray of white roses adorning the door of the Rains County Leader is a testament to the love and respect given to a life well lived. Earl C. Hill, Jr., owner, publisher, and former editor of the Leader died on March 27, and he will be missed. I don’t have a lot of personal memories of Mr. Hill, but the few I have are good ones.
David and I moved to Emory in February, 2011, and I submitted my first article to the Leader in September of that year. The titled of it was “Your Tax Dollars at Work,” and it was about the Senior Center. Participation in the weekday lunch program was down, and there was concern that the program would be dropped. My purpose in writing the article was to introduce the service to anyone who might not know about it and to encourage seniors to try it out for the first time or to come back. I didn’t hear back from Mr. Hill, so I assumed he didn’t like what I had to say – but then my article appeared in the paper in the “Letters to the Editor” section.
I wrote another article or two over the next several months, and each one was printed. Then, in January of 2012, I received a phone call from Mr. Hill. He said that he had checked out my blog, and that he liked what I wrote. He also said that any time I wanted to submit something, he would print it. I’m sure there were limits to that offer, but I guess never pushed them too far. True to his word, he printed everything I submitted – with the exception of one column in which I mentioned that we were out of town. Company policy didn’t allow articles that might notify thieves of a potential target. He even gave me a column with a byline at the beginning and a brief bio at the end.
At first, I wrote when the spirit moved me, but I began to develop a small following at the Senior Center. People began asking me on Monday or Tuesday if I had a column in that week’s paper, and some were disappointed if I said no. Some even based their decision of whether to buy a paper on my answer, so I began to feel an obligation, both to my readers and to the paper, to become more regular in my writing. The final push to weekly submissions came when Mr. Hill gave my column a title.
Mom and Dad were both raised on farms in West Texas, but they had long since moved to the city by the time I was born. Until David and I bought our two-plus acres in Rains County, I had never dealt close up and personal with the realities of country living. A lot of my columns dealt with the struggles of adjusting – and then I decided to plant a garden. Oh, the writing material! There was wind, rain, drought, bugs, leaf mold and fungus, garlic-eating gophers, tomato-eating squirrels, leaf-eating deer, and much more. I moaned and complained that people from the city didn’t know how to deal with such things, and one Tuesday morning, I discovered that I had become “City Girl.”
All my correspondence with the Leader is done electronically, and I only remember meeting Mr. Hill face to face one time. I believe it was the winter of 2012 when David and I stopped by the Leader office for the Christmas Open House. We met several staff members, and then one of them introduced us to the owner himself. He took us on a personal tour of the building, showing us pictures of earlier offices and owners and explaining the inner workings of the operation. It was obvious that he was proud of the results of his life’s work, and with good reason.
I didn’t know Earl Hill, but based on the care with which he oversaw the operation of the Leader, it was obvious that he was a man of conviction and principle. He knew what kind of paper he wanted to produce, and he refused to bow to money-making trends or gimmicks if it meant violating his principles. On the other hand, he didn’t hesitate to take a chance on something he liked, even if it was a writer like me who had no experience or references to offer. Thank you, Mr. Hill, and may God continue to bless the legacy and memories you left behind.