Jamie Gumbrecht did not have an easy act to follow when she got to the Herald-Leader, especially in my eyes.
She was succeeding Heather Svokos, the pop culture writer extraordinaire who, for my money, was the bees knees, had hung the moon and all that. Where on earth could we find someone to match her wit, personality and breadth of popular culture expertise? And could that possibly be found in a 22-year-old, straight out of college? C'mon.
The first half of that question started being answered when I was around 13 years old, appropriately in this case, on television. It was an episode of M*A*S*H where Corporal Klinger was having a hard time filling the shoes of wonderful Radar. At some point near the end of the episode, Col. Potter had to explain that while jobs are the same, people are different, and they do their jobs differently. But that doesn't mean they can't do them equally well and wonderfully. So, I went forward in life with a mentality that people will come and go, and we need to appreciate them for who they are; not trap them by preconceptions of who we want them to be.
The bigger answer came when Jamie flew in for her interview. We went to dinner at Alfalfa's, and I was reminded that people can be wise beyond their years. She was definitely a product of her pop culture generation, but was well aware of the history that preceded it. And she was extremely well rounded, having traveled to Cuba while in college, interviewed figures such as Condoleezza Rice, and completed internships at the Dallas Morning News and Atlanta Journal-Constitution -- that was a big clue we would not be keeping her forever.
In fact, we knew we were getting a rising star when Jamie came to us in the winter of 2005, and she proved our editors were sharp talent scouts. Among her coups were gigs covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and a recent stint at McClatchy's Baghdad Bureau, covering both Kentucky stories and general news.
But Jamie also redefined her section of the culture beat. She was one of our pioneering bloggers, making It's All About so good, I was afraid to dip my toe in the blogosphere for a long time. She was a key player in launching LexGo. She brought a fresh, twentysomething perspective to the proceedings, introducing us to worlds previously unseen in the Herald-Leader, like Al's Bar. And she tackled two of our fine arts beats, ballet and visual arts, bringing us stories as serious as the decrepit conditions at the University of Kentucky's visual arts school's home in the Reynolds building and as fun as the special relationship between ballerinas and their tutus.
Above all that, Jamie developed an honest affection for this town. In any business, you can find people who move through towns of our size and character -- especially if they've lived and worked in bigger, sexier cities -- and look down their noses at them. But Jamie dug into Lexington, found things that defined the city and made it unique and cool, and fell in love with it. Don't take my word for it. Read her farewell post.
It was less than two months ago I realized Jamie had been here three years, and mentioned to our editor, Scott Shive, that I was amazed we'd kept her that long. About a week later, I found out Atlanta had come calling, and the final answer seemed inevitable. It is a town and a paper that will put her in a very bright spotlight. We will be saying we knew her when . . .
But we will also remember that when she was here, she grew, she brought us along with her, and we are better for having had Jamie here.