Saturday, January 11, 2014
BY FRANK JOHNSON
With the possible exception of her allegiance to the Clemson Tigers, I’m not at all sure that Judy Watts has a major fault. And believe me, after the past six years I would know if she did.
I have immediate family members who I know less about than Judy. And my family is close.
During my first stint at the Journal Scene, when I was a rookie and she was the editor of the Goose Creek Gazette, Judy was the lady whose convertible Mazda would come speeding into the parking lot once a week, just in the nick of time.
Sometimes she came alone, sometimes a young son would tag along, but she always came, usually with an armload of notepads and a camera or two dangling from her neck.
Judy never missed a deadline … and not just because of our collective fear of what Mr. Collins would do if a deadline was, in fact, missed. No, she didn’t miss a deadline because that’s the way she operated. If Judy Watts was doing it, it was going to be done right.
When I left Summerville, I thought my days of working with her were over. Boy, was I wrong.
After years away, I received a call. Judy and Joey Benton were on the line; both had recently returned to the Journal Scene, and now they wanted me back, too.
As is my wont, I went back and forth on what to do. It was a close call. Ultimately, if not for the fact that Judy was in Summerville, it is fair to say that I probably would not have returned.
But she was, and I did.
And since August 2007, Judy and I have either talked on the phone, or texted, or emailed, somewhere between one and, oh, 400 times every day.
Not every weekday. Every day. To be fair, those numbers went down – slightly – on days we worked in the same building.
Phone calls, text messages, emails … We never did communicate by telegraph, but considering how often Judy and Pat take the boat out, that was probably only a matter of time.
Today, that communication is about to decrease, at least in quantity.
Since Judy floated the idea of retiring several months ago, I tried every possible way to talk her out of it. Because I knew then, as I know now, how much we’re going to miss her. How much I’m going to miss her.
Over the past decades, the Lowcountry has been witness to the talent of this gifted writer. I appreciate that talent, too. But I also appreciate something else.
You see, Judy’s is the rarest of combinations: she works harder than anyone, yet has a complete and utter disregard for receiving any of the credit for that work.
From afar, that’s an impressive mix. When you’re the one lucky enough to work alongside her? That’s too good to be true.
What does Judy do? A better question is, what doesn’t she do?
Need a story edited? She does that. Need a story written? She does that, too.
Need an idea for a story? She’s got tons.
Need a Saturday morning photograph taken, when everyone else is “busy?” Ask Judy. She’s busy – but she’ll take it anyway.
What’s that? There’s an irate politician on the phone upset about something in Wednesday’s paper? Patch them through to Judy. She’s a good listener, and explainer, and soother of raw nerves.
Come again? The newspaper’s hosting a social event, and is in desperate need of someone to organize, decorate, supervise, set up, breakdown, hostess, emcee, and, you know, if she doesn’t mind and has a few spare minutes, maybe even make some world-renowned deviled eggs for the occasion? Call Judy.
What about this:
It’s late, and you’re tired, and you’re frustrated, and it’s been one of those days, one of those weeks, and you need to vent, need someone to listen and empathize and sympathize and … just … make it better?
You know who’s great at that, don’t you? Judy Watts is.
Judy Watts, it turns out, is great at a lot of things.
I’ve been thinking about this farewell column for a while now, thinking about the best way to end it. The person I would usually call … well, now she has other things to do. Finally. And deservedly.
So after a lot of thought, a little consternation, a rewrite or two just on principle … I decided on this.
In life, Kris Kristofferson once explained, there are only four rules:
Tell the truth.
Sing with passion.
Work with laughter.
And love with heart.
Judy Watts follows every single one of those rules, every single day.
Happy retirement, Mrs. Watts. I’ll be calling you soon.