February 4, 2010

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if He broke the mold when he created that one? Weíve all heard that commentary made about remarkable individuals, explaining the possibility that they are one of a kind. Iím pretty certain God will never make another Wanda (Kraus) Swope.

She passed away early Tuesday morning after a two-month battle with cancer. This editorial should have been written a hundred times over during the past 40 plus years, but self-preservation instincts of the prospective writers likely superseded the obvious warrant of such praise. Basically Wanda would have killed me if I had written this a month ago.

She may still be mad at me when her copy is delivered to her in heaven, but oh well.

You see Wanda never was about the reward. That said, I never have witnessed such work ethic. I know in the nearly 10 years that I have owned the newspaper, she NEVER missed a day of work until her recent illness.

It wasnít just that she loved to work. Iím not sure it is fair to offer flowery amorous attributes to her job, but lets just say she took it very seriously. After 40 years with the newspaper, it is safe to say she was pretty darn good at what she did.

I can say for a fact, it wasnít just about a paycheck. Soon after this young man and his wife took the plunge and purchased the Memphis Democrat, the key employee, pulled her new boss aside. Wanda explained to me that she was now 63, and she didnít know how long she was going to be around. At first I thought she was trying to tell me she was quitting. She explained to me that she was going to start taking her Social Security early. But she wasnít breaking the news to me that she was retiring. Nope, she was going to continue to work. But under the guidelines of the federal retirement program, she could only make so much salary annually while receiving the Social Security check monthly. Basically she explained to me that she needed me to cut her salary, but she informed me she had absolutely no intention of working any fewer hours.

She explained it to me as if she simply wanted to take advantage of her Social Security while she could, but I knew what she was really doing. She was trying to make things easier on the new owners. Like I said - one of a kind.

Basically she treated me that way from day one, when I first dropped off my resume in hopes of being hired. When the opportunity arose, she put in a good word for me, and from that day forward she was part mentor and part mother hen for this fledgling newspaperman. As a matter of fact, many people simply assumed that I was her son (or grandson on days when I explained to her I must look pretty young because she never looked old enough to be a grandma.)

Wanda was not an owner, not a stockholder, nor did she get paid overtime. None of those facts ever entered her mind when the clock struck 5:00 p.m. and she remained on her task until it was completed. I guess 40 years of a looming weekly newspaper deadlines taught her to complete all of the work you had at hand, and not to put off anything to be done until tomorrow, because there would be fresh tasks to complete when the new day arrived.

We learned recently that Wanda has been ill for some time. While those closest to her knew she wasnít feeling well, we didnít know the extent of her disease until she fell in her home just about two months ago.

If she would have had her way, we may never have known. One of Wandaís biggest concerns was she might burden someone. Even after falling twice in her home, she crawled through her house and waited by the phone for a few hours before calling a friend for aid. She explained to me that it was too early to be calling anyone. So she waited until she knew her friend would be awake before calling to ask for help.

Very few had the pleasure of getting to know Wanda Swope. She was an intensely private person. One could say she buried herself in her work. But it was through her vocation that this wonderful woman touched the lives of so many people in this community.

I can not begin to put in words how much she will be missed, and can only say these few examples of her amazing character do not even begin to scratch the surface of how blessed we were to have had the chance to share her life.

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