NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - It was a rare crime in the upper-middle-class suburban New Jersey town, a teenage girl fatally beaten by a high school boy.
Days later I sat at a friend’s house for a holiday dinner with his family, and everybody was looking at me, a young reporter for the local paper, who had covered the big case.
That was in 1978, but I still remember how the 15 or so others in the house sat so anxiously to hear the details that I reluctantly revealed, thinking it was sad topic to discuss at a family gathering.
Ever since that long ago day, I have written stories about crime, politics, schools, building development, business, hospitals, and so many other topics, nearly all of it in New Jersey. It comes to a conclusion today.
After 40-plus years in journalism, including the last year at TapInto New Brunswick, I am retiring. Starting with jobs at weekly newspapers - back when they were more viable - I later worked at two daily papers, including most of my career at The Star-Ledger and NJ.com.
Even during my days at Cranford High School, I had the strong desire to be a writer and thought that a job at a newspaper would provide a steady paycheck. That, fortunately, is how it worked out.
Besides getting paid to write, there was pride in being a journalist.
It's a tough business, and becoming more difficult with cutbacks at news organizations and attacks on the media, more now than at any time I can remember.
Reporters need a thick skin and must get accustomed to criticism, and news reporting has always been a tough business.
Yet, I had the wonderful opportunity to tell stories, many describing how people struggled in the systems set up in our society. There were stories about men who served decades in prison on murder charges, only to be released after it was proven they were wrongly convicted.
There was the young woman who worked three part-time jobs to scratch out a living and slept in her beat-up car in between shifts. She was found dead from fumes leaking in the car while she was sleeping, parked behind a convenience store.
One man convicted of multiple murders sued the state for keeping him in solitary confinement for three years, filing all his own legal briefs, and claiming it was cruel and unusual punishment. The case went to trial and the man testified before a jury, but the trial ended when prosecutors convinced the judge to throw out the lawsuit because the inmate failed to follow one step in the prison grievance process.
And there was the small city mayor who was elected as a reformer to save his municipality and rose to become a political power broker before being convicted of state and federal corruption charges.
It has been my privilege to write about all this and more, to tell stories of families who would share the tragedies they had endured and see the best in people coming together to help neighbors and strangers.
During the government shutdown earlier this year, people, as well as businesses large and small, stepped up to help those among us who were suddenly out of work.
There were stories of small groups of people at churches volunteering time to help the homeless and run food pantries. There was a woman who organized a community garden and annually ran a program teaching children and teenagers how to grow their own food.
When an explosion and fire devastated an apartment complex and left tenants with nothing, people from surrounding towns gathered donations of clothing and household items, so many that volunteers turned a school gymnasium into what looked like a retail store, with display racks of shirts, pants and coats, and tables piled high with sweaters, socks, shoes, pocketbooks and so much more, all available to the victims for free.
Even as I'm retiring, there are still residents and parents across the state who will go before town councils and school boards with pleas for help to improve programs, policies and conditions for themselves, their families and their communities.
In New Brunswick, a small group of residents has pushed to get air conditioning in century-old school buildings because the heat is hindering students. The school board this month announced that some money was included in the upcoming budget to install some A/C equipment.
Their story and so many others need to be told by the next generation of committed reporters and editors.
There were so many officials, community leaders and other sources who enabled me over the years to report on the issues that mattered most to them. Thank you to all those who took the time to read the stories I’ve had the chance to share.