People Matter Most

I walked into my first general assignment shift at the Missourian at about 8 a.m., and after spilling coffee on myself (note to self: double- and triple-check lids when I’m putting them on travel mugs early in the morning) approximately two minutes later, I knew it was going to be one of those days.

And it was. But despite the chaos and stress and pounding headache, it was rewarding because of one woman: Carolyn “Lynn” McGill Whitworth.

Already planning to write a follow-up story to an issue discussed in Gov. Nixon’s State of the State address, I received a second  assignment shortly after walking in the door (post-coffee spill): my first life story. The Missourian doesn’t publish obituaries; instead, reporters write life stories to celebrate the lives of those who have passed away. This one had been submitted by the son of Ms. Whitworth, a 50-year Columbia resident.

Ms. Whitworth, from what I’d gathered from the obituary sent (in perfect Associated Press style from an MU J-School graduate), was a lovely woman. She highly valued education — she attended Oberlin College, and her husband had degrees from Princeton University and the Sorbonne in Paris. She spent most of her working life in libraries, including the Stephens College one. After she retired, she cared for her husband, who had Alzheimer’s disease, until his death. She spent her last years in California close to her sister, son and daughter, and she passed away peacefully, her son said, at age 91.

By talking with relatives, I learned how exceptional Ms. Whitworth was.

She was “a woman of letters,” as her son said, and shared her love of literature with those around her. She would take her children to story hour at the Columbia Public Library and give them lots of books for Christmas. She was a lifelong avid reader of the New Yorker. She adamantly corresponded with her mother each week by writing her a letter. She worked on the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle two days before she died.

But she was so much more than that. She had a lot of integrity and class, her daughter said. She enjoyed what her son called “stimulating” conversation about academics and the arts. Family outings were to ballets at Stephens College and plays and concerts in the Columbia area. She began swimming as a child and carried that love of water throughout her life. As she got older, she stayed active by line-dancing and doing water aerobics. She enjoyed luncheons with friends. She played cards. She knit. And, of course, she read some more.

A lot of journalism is about what is, at this very moment, occurring in our community — a City Council rezoning proposal or state budget cuts or the latest local act of violence. That’s great and all (don’t get me wrong), but my favorite kind of journalism is about people. It tells stories and almost acts as an introduction to a new acquaintance, one I’d like to get to know better. This type of journalism keeps me hooked from beginning to end.

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to participate in that kind of journalism by sharing Ms. Whitworth’s story. It’s my favorite piece I’ve done for the Missourian so far, and I really hope that, in the education beat and other general assignment shifts, I’m able to share many more stories of people like Ms. Whitworth, because they deserve to be heard.

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