A lot of us have lost many people this year and sadly, you are not always given a chance to pay respects or to say goodbye at a visitation or funeral with things as they are this year.
I lost a former boss and friend last week. He died a few days before his 83rd birthday. Wilton Walton stood at least six foot tall but was really a quiet man with a different sense of humor who taught me a lot and helped me spread my wings in community newspaper.
He taught me to serve the community that a newspaper was in because that’s how you become a part of it. I’ve tried to remember that over the years and have served on various committees and organizational boards. Over the last few years have slowed down in that area some as I believe we need others to step up to that charge.
Wilton hired me at The Leader-Tribune, not long after I had received my degree from UGA. This was my second paying newspaper job and I began as a typesetter and quickly was allowed to spread my wings and write and do darkroom and production and even helped with bookkeeping
He reinforced what Jane had taught me at the first job, that as a leader, you have to set the pace and be willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. He covered meetings, wrote editorials and a column, covered sports and instilled in me the real purpose of a community newspaper. It has served me well over the years.
During my seven years there when Wilton owned the newspaper, he had a good natured ongoing feud with Mayor Paul Rheeling. He held the mayor’s feet to the fire and unless you knew them, you wouldn’t know that they were good friends. Friendship did not stand in the way of doing his job, which some people never understand.
Wilton was a staunch support of the hospital which was known as Peach Regional at that time. It’s how I came to know Nancy Peed who would become CEO and is now a missionary in Uganda.
He also was a huge supporter of Fort Valley State University.
He loved sports as well and covered the Trojans.
When he sold the Tribune, I was devastated but glad we remained in contact through the years. He opened Fox Valley Printing and Walton & Walton Advertising and I would drop by there from time to time to talk. He always took the time no matter how busy he might be right then.
He enjoyed stories, writing and telling them and had the deepest laugh which made you laugh with him. He was a people person and listened intently to everyone who he talked with every single time.
At that time the L-T was next door to what used to be Ricketson Drug Stores. There was an entrance on both streets, Hwy. 49 and Church Street. The original production room which was moved to the backside, became his wife, Ann’s, location. Wilton’s office was also in that room at the back right side. Outside Ann’s office was a sign that read “accounting” and outside Wilton’s door the sign stated, “Accountability”.
No matter what happened or who complained, Wilton always felt the buck stopped with him in anything that involved the newspaper. He always took up for his employees, always took the heat for everything people complained about concerning what an employee had written.
I remember once I took a photo at a fire scene at a mobile home park which ended up winning me and the newspaper an award. One of the victims just had a blanket wrapped around her and someone complained that we should not have published that photo. It showed the woman’s bare arms and shoulders but nothing else as the blanket was wrapped around her.
It was probably one of my better photos because it told the whole story — the scene, the victims, the firefighters. Wilton did not back down about us publishing the photo. It was also one of the worst things I had ever covered and I returned to the office sick at my stomach. I had never before smelled burning flesh. It’s something you never forget.
Wilton took me up once in his plane which was yellow for some aerial photos. He thought it funny to cut the engine off while flying, just to see your reaction I imagine. He flew so low once that I swear the cows were turning over on their backs! It was the one and only time I flew with him.
Wilton and Ann had four children whom we would see from time to time and son, Sam, worked there some and became an excellent photographer. His sister, Linda, also helped out from time to time. His sisters, Georgia and Mary Frances also came by from time to time. Wilton was all about family and his employees were like family.
Ann and Wilton lived on a large piece of property and had an antebellum home which I enjoyed visiting. I once bought a Palomino horse from them named Dan. He had part of one of his ears missing but was the best riding horse ever. He would always find a way out of the pasture to come to my kitchen window to look at me. Dan, too, loved people and had a great personality.
There are so many great memories from those days at the Leader-Tribune and I met many people with whom I still am in contact with from time to time. Some have passed on since those days and others I have lost touch with over the years. Other than me, one or two continued their journalistic journey but most didn’t.
Wilton is one of those people you are glad that you knew. For me, he also impacted my career journey for the better. Thank you for the memories Wilton and one day we will meet again on those golden shores of heaven. Sending prayers for his family.
Condolences and prayers for Wade Yoder as well in the loss of his father. Once a parent passes, your life is forever changed. Hugs, Wade, we love you.
Remember to hug your love once and tell people you love them because none of us are promised tomorrow. This year definitely should have taught us that lesson.
Wishing you all many blessings and praying for us as we look forward to a new and better year. We must always look forward with expectation of the best is yet to come.
VICTORIA SIMMONS Is a columnist, author, motivational speaker, minister and publisher of The Georgia Post/Byron Buzz. Contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org