Murray Bishoff: Goodbye, but not farewell

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Over the years, I’ve attended many local funerals.

Kings and princes were honored for stature they had earned, for grace and kindness in action; women whose nobility and thoughtfulness earned them respect. Honor at graveside has been mostly a meritocracy here, not a right of birth.

The funeral for past Pierce City mayor Mark Peters felt different for me. Together, we endured the tornado destruction and reconstruction, I as almost embedded press, there at meeting after meeting. This felt like burying a Civil War general, the man whom we rode beside into the fight, who directed the battles — good and bad — and ultimately earned the hard fought victory. This felt personal, greatness earned in front of my eyes, while others had long decades of achievement earning their laurels.

I had always hoped Peters would write the definitive account of Pierce City’s battle back from oblivion. Every time I tried, he challenged points only he had seen, and now lost for good.

Peters will be best remembered outside of Pierce City not for his contribution to tornado recovery, but for his role in the documentary film “Banished,” which continues to be shown in schools and private venues long after its airing on national TV in 2006. As the Brown brothers exhumed their great-grandfather from the Pierce City Cemetery and raised the question of reparations for racial injustice, an issue as fresh today as it was 15 years ago when the film was made, Peters stood out as the voice of reason in the struggle to come to grips with the sins of earlier generations. His words ring across time, as does the apology he issued for the city for the terrible actions that took place in 1901. Few people, if anyone, would have had the courage to do that.

My role in bringing Marco Williams’ documentary crew to town was done with trepidation, but in hopes that the sanity and good will of the people I knew here would shine through. I chafed at the Brown brothers’ attempt to secure reparations. In time, however, especially with the unresolved issues of racial justice that persist in America’s public dialogue, the film stands up well. I have welcomed opportunities to appear at its showings.

In 32 years at The Monett Times, I have had the distinct pleasure of knowing many truly great people. Even the scoundrels I have encountered provided insight and entertainment. I have tried to present all their stories fairly, letting them speak for themselves, documenting their words and their deeds.

Often, it was difficult.

Evolving stories cry out to be reported as they develop, even as the underlying truth only gradually comes to light. It’s very hard for the writer to keep conflicting accounts in perspective for the long view, try as we might. Sometimes we fall short, and I’ve apologized many times for that.

Writing this column weekly for 24 years to the month has been one of the great joys of my career in journalism. Like Times’ publisher Ken Meuser, who wrote front-page columns on and off over his 30-year ownership of the paper, I tried to often focus on community betterment issues. As a preacher’s kid, I also leaned into shaping the character and culture of the community, praising our “better angels,” encouraging the best of who we are so that those moments of grace could be witnessed more often, not merely as anomalies on the radar screen.

I have been offered the opportunity to continue this wonderful forum, and I have chosen to decline. It has been my method over the years to discuss what the community is talking about during the past week, thus keeping my comments relevant. To refocus my attention to other arenas, especially writing where I hope to achieve some distinction but will take considerable new learning and practice, I find I must step back and pass the torch to my worthy colleagues.

I have agreed to offer one day a week at The Monett Times in my retirement, so my name will not disappear from the paper. It will be more in the capacity of senior contributor, as Ted Koppel continues to do for CBS News. A topic may arise touching me enough to bring me back to this podium, if only for a week, every now and then.

You will continue to see me at community events, though perhaps not with a camera around my neck, or maybe only with a camera, to take Familiar Faces photos for Connection. I do not plan to give up all the socializing I have done over the years, but I likely won’t be showing up at two meetings or three events the same evening, as I have had to do on the job. I plan to continue my duties with the Ozark Festival Orchestra and hope to see you at our concerts.

Retirement is a bittersweet concept, having lived at and for the newspaper for three decades. Even vacation for the last month has been a bit shocking, upending the routine that shaped my days for so long.

Thank you for welcoming me into your homes. I have likened our meetings on this page to FDR’s fireside chats. As I have enjoyed reading my predecessors’ comments reflecting their days, so too I hope that my words will offer future readers a window into our times, our aspirations and our dreams.

Community building never ends. It is my time to step on this mountain and climb another.

I hope I can see you from there another day.

Murray Bishoff has served readers of The Monett Times since 1988. He can be reached at times-news@monett-times.com, or 417-235-3135.

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