Goodbye friends

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 8, 2004

How can we deal with the grief that follows the loss of a friend or a loved one? How can we deal with that pain when it strikes twice in one week?

I’m feeling down in the dumps today (Sunday) as I sit down to peck out my weekly column. I had already planned to write about the passing of former Ahoskie Mayor Arthur Lee Wiggins. Then my phone rings early Sunday morning where my publisher, Jay Jenkins, informs me that Helene Knight – a former staff writer/photographer for this newspaper and the current editor of our sister publication, the Gates County Index – died suddenly over the weekend.

Here I am, feeling sorry for myself because of my dad’s declining health, and all of a sudden, I find myself the lucky one because he’s still alive, still hanging in there.

Now my heart is saddened with the loss of two friends, one a co-worker for over 20 years while the other was someone I and this newspaper relied heavily upon for decades in helping us spread the good news of Ahoskie.

We’ve lost two outstanding citizens of the Roanoke-Chowan area. A man who was a driving force behind the modern-day development and success of the area’s largest town and a woman with a journalistic touch to take note of such accomplishments and report them to an audience of readers.

Arthur Lee Wiggins was a man of character. He was cut from the &uot;old school&uot; – coming through a time where life wasn’t carried out at the breakneck speed of today. He did things methodically, thinking them through from numerous angles in an effort to make sure that the decision took into account the betterment of all, and not just a select few.

There was perhaps no one among the movers and the shakers in the state of North Carolina that could not make the connection between Wiggins and Ahoskie. Those two were inseparable. One couldn’t mention Wiggins without mentioning Ahoskie, and vice versa.

If there was a local, regional or state meeting that could help shape the future of Ahoskie, you better believe Arthur Lee was present. That was true if he was representing the Town of Ahoskie as its Mayor or if he was wearing his other &uot;hat&uot; – Executive Director of the Ahoskie Chamber of Commerce. I fondly recall the many Chamber of Commerce meetings I attended where Arthur Lee would present the Board of Directors a list of what he had done over the past month. I was always amazed at Arthur Lee’s work ethic. I thought I attended a lot of meeting in my capacity as News Editor. I couldn’t hold a candle to Arthur Lee.

At the funeral last week, Rev. May called Arthur Lee, &uot;the most photographed man in Ahoskie.&uot; The pastor was right. As Director of the Chamber, it was Arthur Lee’s job to take those over-sized scissors and cut the ceremonial ribbon to help open a new business. That was always a photo opportunity for this newspaper. Ditto for the photos he posed for as Mayor when he took part in announcing a proclamation for a certain cause.

Arthur Lee will most certainly be missed. Ahoskie Town Councilman Buck Suiter summed it up the best when he said, &uot;they don’t make men like Arthur Lee Wiggins anymore.&uot;

As for Helene, losing her is like losing a member of your family.

As it is within most businesses, your fellow co-workers become your second family. You hold ’em and love ’em in times of need and celebrate with them in times of accomplishment.

Helene and I go way back….back to a time when this newspaper was family owned and operated. I was working as the camera room supervisor back in the mid-80’s while Helene was just a few steps away in the News-Herald newsroom and also took care of the editorial darkroom duties.

She was always so kind and so gracious. No matter if you were having the worst day imaginable, Helene was always there with a word of encouragement. She always tried to lift your spirits. That’s not only a sign of a caring co-worker, but that of a true friend.

I was so proud of Helene when she finally earned the chance to return to her home county and take over the Gates County Index as its editor. She had worked so hard to achieve that dream, and she tackled it with the vigor and work ethic she had used here at the News-Herald.

Despite her battle with cancer, Helene never lost sight of her job. She refused to give in….never letting her ailment get in the way of a job she loved so dearly. It was like she owed the citizens of Gates County nothing but her best and she wasn’t about to let a disease stand in her way.

Nobody has told me this, so I’ll be the first to say it….they don’t make women like Helene Knight anymore. Goodbye my friend; goodbye my co-worker. If there’s a newspaper in heaven, that staff just inherited a true, self-taught journalist.