One of God’s greatest works

Published 8:28 am Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Have you ever experienced a moment in life that seemingly serves no defined purpose when it occurs, but later reveals its true meaning?

I guess we all have those hindsight moments. One occurred for this reporter back in April. To be exact, it was Wednesday, April 14.

If it’s a Monday, Wednesday or Friday in the life of a member of the Roanoke-Chowan Publications team, those days, particularly the afternoon hours, are full of production deadlines. Those are the days we, as a newspaper staff, are physically putting together the next day’s edition. Deadlines are critical elements within our business….missing one by just 30 minutes spells trouble down the production line as we hurry to beat our “out-the-door” times for our numerous publications.

Anyway, back to Wednesday, April 14.

It was mid-to-late afternoon, meaning I was just three hours or less away from meeting the newsroom deadline to the plate room. To say the least, we were pushing the envelope on that particular day….things weren’t falling into place as planned.

My desk phone rings and, in a huff, I answer to find Carlton Nickens on the other end. Carlton, a Hertford County native now living in Gates County where he serves on the Board of Commissioners, and I have been friends for a long time. He is also the son of Alice Jones Nickens, a woman featured in our newspaper on numerous occasions.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010 was Miss Alice’s birthday….not just any old birthday, mind you, but one that celebrated her 106 years on this Earth.

Alice Nickens had the honor of being Hertford County’s oldest citizen; perhaps she was one of the oldest North Carolina natives. As mentioned earlier, she had been the subject of many stories in this newspaper; first featuring her skills as a local educator and, later in life, one of our area’s most beloved citizens due to her community spirit.

She also wrote numerous Letters to the Editor, each full of her enormous wisdom and kind, gentle spirit.

Miss Alice lived at home, adjacent to her beloved C.S. Brown High School in Winton (where she taught for 47 years), until she was 99. She then moved to the Ahoskie House, an assisted living home.

“I asked mama had she enjoyed her day and asked who had come to visit her,” Carlton told me in that phone call. “She listed all those who had visited, but said she still hadn’t seen Mr. Bryant.”

Miss Alice was waiting on my visit that day. How do you say no to a 106-year-old woman, despite being up to your eyeballs in work and a press crew depending on you meeting a deadline?

I stopped my work and drove to the Ahoskie House for a visit. Miss Alice’s broad smile and those sweet eyes melted my heart. We chatted for a few minutes and I took a photo of her with Carlton and his sister, Sandra. That photo was published, adding to Miss Alice’s record of newspaper appearances.

We lost Alice Jones Nickens on July 27. The good Lord said her work was done on this Earth and called her home.

In retrospect, I was destined to pay my visit on April 14. It would prove as the last time I laid eyes on a woman I consider as a true gem. They don’t make people like Miss Alice anymore.

Miss Alice was one of God’s most amazing works. For those of us that knew her later in life or those fortunate enough to be the beneficiary of her educational skills or community spirit, we all died a little on July 27.

Rest in peace, Miss Alice; your good and faithful journey on Earth is done.

(Cal Bryant is Editor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index. He can be reached at or 252-332-7207.)

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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