Fifty years ago, I walked away from a full academic scholarship to the University of Virginia because I did not want to take two years off from my then-job as a reporter for The Roanoke Times.
I started at UVa’s Roanoke Center on Grandin Road and went to work for the Times with an understanding that I would obtain a college degree in political science. I also started work for the Times that same year (1965).
At the time, I knew that I would have to transfer to the Charlottesville campus for the last two years of school and my scholarship would pay for tuition and living expenses as long as I completed my courses and obtained a degree within five years.
At the end of my sophomore year, I asked the school to allow me to take a year off before relocating to Charlottesville. At the end of 1967, I had to let UVa know if I would or would not be entering my junior year with them.
After considering pros and cons, I decided to keep working. At the time, many newspaperman did not have college degrees. Unfortunately, the Times didn’t agree with my conclusions. They did not learn of my change of heart until 1969 and I had not lived up to my commitment. They sent me packing.
In those days, newspapers around the country were hiring and it took me one day to land an interview with The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois. Managing editor John Focht looked over my clippings and offered me a job on the spot with a starting salary of $45 a week more than the Times paid. It seemed like one hell of an offer.
The 12 years there preceded 23 in Washington, DC.
Over the five decades that followed the decision in at the end of 1967, I seldom thought about missing the opportunity to finish my college education at Virginia. Not much time to do so in a life that included a lot of world travel, involvement in prominent news events and a 12-year sabbatical to the dark side of life as a political operative and staff member of Congress.
My lack of a college degree seldom came up in dealings with new employers.
Memories of that shortened college time came up this morning when I recalled that I had to let the Charlottesville office know by Jan. 1, 1968, that I would not be starting my junior year in the fall.
Was it a good decision? I think so. In the year that followed, I won a Virginia Press Association award for a column about a 16-year-old high school girl in Roanoke who had an abortion (illegal at the time) and another for a story about street racers in Roanoke County. Both of those were commented on by the editor who hired me in Illinois.
On the bad side, I was an obnoxious kid as a reporter at the Times with an overgrown ego that stayed with me for the 12 years that followed in Illinois and too many of the 23 years after that in Washington, DC. Would two more years in college provide an education in humility? Perhaps.
Amy tells me that my first step into alcoholism recovery toned down my ego in 1994, but not my brashness. The time in a coma following my life-threatening motorcycle crash in 2012 tempered me more, she says.
Life takes many twists and turns over the years — some that come from decisions we make, some by fate and some by events in our lives.
I enter 2018 as a 70-year-old man who has lived a full life, often at the limits and too often without regard for the consequences. The decision I made 50 years ago set a course that gave me the love of my life for the last 38 years and a lifetime of memories.
With luck, that will continue as we head in 2018.
Happy New Year from Amy and I. May we enjoy further fulfillment with our friends.