Over the past 48+ years, I’ve written somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 personal columns.

But none like this.

After decades in preparation, you’d think I might have some idea of what should be said in this, my last column as your editor, but, that’s not the case.

Certainly, one thing comes to mind:

Thank you.

Words cannot adequately express the gratitude I have for this community. In early April, 1971, I was a relatively care-free UGA student and had never heard of Blackshear, Georgia. By the 9th day of that month, I owed the first of many bank notes to come to both Peoples Bank and The Blackshear Bank to help me buy this business. They, their successors, and many others have been helping support me ever since.

Blackshear business owners and residents weren’t quite sure what to make of their brash young editor, the youngest in Georgia and, some said, the nation. Still two months shy of my 21st birthday, the words of my then-partners, Roy Chalker and Wilkes Williams of Waynesboro still ring in my ear.

Those two middle-aged newspapermen had met me at The Times office that Monday morning. They left after only a couple of hours, but their words as they went out the door gave me a chill. Wilkes clapped my shoulder, looking me in the eye:

“Robert, we know you’re only 20 years old, but starting right now, you’ve got to act like you’re 40!”

They rode away, confident I could turn their faltering investment in Blackshear’s newspaper into a success.

I really couldn’t do that, but all of you, perhaps in acknowledgement of the hard work the staff and I put in — or maybe just out of pity for a youngster in over his head — responded by subscribing by the hundreds. God bless every advertiser who has utilized our pages. Having some great staff members has made my job easier, thank goodness.

Roy and Wilkes never came back to Blackshear. In just five years, I was, buying them both out. I remember the phone call.

“I like it here and it looks like I’m gonna be here for the duration...In that case, I’d like to own all of the paper.”

They immediately agreed and, financed the entire purchase price for me with generous terms and no money down. They got a handsome return on their investment but, if they’d asked for even $1,000 down, my time here might have been short-lived.

That “duration” has now turned into 48 years, and counting, among the longest editorial tenures in Georgia.

It hasn’t always been easy. I’ve made thousands of friends as your editor. And probably lost a few hundred. Being an editor who covers news thoroughly and writes editorials and columns is no way to win a popularity contest.

Being well-liked has never been the goal. The best I’ve hoped for is to be appreciated for being accurate and fair. Only you know if I’ve succeeded.

I gave up a pending job at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to buy this newspaper. Small-town weekly newspapering is where my heart has always been.

Writing about people you know, the good and the bad, can be heart-wrenching at times, but it also offers more reward and satisfaction than anything I can imagine. If I could sum up what has made my career so interesting and so intensely satisfying, I really don’t have to look far. Check the front page.

“Liked by many. Cussed by Some. Read by them all.”

Thank you for a great career, Blackshear.

• Robert M. Williams, Jr. is the former Editor & Publisher of The Blackshear Times. Email: rwilliams@atc.cc.

Robert M. Williams, Jr. can be reached at rwilliams@theblacksheartimes.com.