If you’ve met George Riggs, you know that he has a Southern accent. The former president of MediaNews Group’s California Newspaper Partnership and former publisher of the Contra Costa Times and Mercury News stepped down in January at age 61. What is he doing now? (George, e-mail us and let us know.) But here is an excerpt from his essay “Growing Up in Mississippi” posted by the Hattiesburg American newspaper:
- I had always been drawn to dangerous work, figuring, I suppose, that it was the quickest way to make money. After high school, I had worked the summer following graduation as a deckhand on a riverboat, moving wheat barges up and down the Mississippi. Later, I worked as a strikebreaker, crossing picket lines at a Masonite plant in Laurel, Mississippi. It was a tough strike in which at least one strike breaker, a former classmate of mine, was killed.
And about the draft for the Vietnam War …
- The tears flowed more freely around the room as the reality of what was about to happen sunk in. My head pounded and I had dry mouth, even though I knew I would not be boarding the buses. I showed one of the staffers my papers, and asked what I should do next. He told me to get dressed and meet him back there. I dressed as if I were in a fog, not quite fully comprehending what had just happened. Out of the entire group, I was the only one that had failed the physical exam. When I returned to meet the staffer, the others were already lining up at the rear door to board the buses. The staffer led me through the line and down the hallway to the front door. He opened it and I walked out, alone, into the late afternoon Mississippi sunshine.
I started walking toward my mother’s apartment, still dazed and trying to grasp my good fortune. Some of those I had just spent the afternoon with would die. Others would be wounded, some physically, others emotionally, by what they were about to go through. But by some inexplicable twist of fate I had been spared. I didn’t know why, but I made up my mind as I walked down State Street that afternoon that I would not squander the opportunity I had just been given.