Gene Cox began working at Richmond’s WWBT-12 thirty-three years ago. Today is his last behind the anchor desk.
The native Virginian presided over half a lifetime’s worth of news items, big and small, making them all his own. Especially the small ones.
WWBT has paid tribute to Gene this week by running favorite stories and clips from the past. This certainly isn’t a novel way to honor an outgoing television personality, but I found the effort compelling nonetheless because its wide range of content revealed Gene’s versatility. Always the consummate newsman, he seemed happiest when visiting regular folks in small towns like the ones near and dear to his own Southwest Virginia heart.
Gene posted a bittersweet entry on his personal blog yesterday. Entitled “No Country for Old Men,” he reflected briefly and thankfully on his working life, noting that it was a career spent doing “exactly what [he] wanted to do.”
Yet, rather than slipping into a cliched recitation of how wonderful he feels at this moment, there was an astute and mildly-sad recognition of the reality of the situation in which he now finds himself.
“I do not relish getting up each morning with vague purpose. And because I don’t play golf, or want to, there are some issues that must be faced.”
He later references the Cormac McCarthy work for which he named the entry, noting the simple fact that thirty-three years is a long time in human terms. Life changes. But, more to the point, the world changes around us. Each change is equally inevitable. Trying to stop either is futile.
Finding a purpose is arguably the essence of a happy life, whether it be raising a family, finding the right career, or achieving some tangible goal. There’s a corollary that goes along with that, however: Chances are that even a happy, successful person will outlive his purpose.
The kids move out. You get the gold watch. You win a championship. The question at that point remains the same: “Now what?”
That will be the question Gene answers in the days ahead.
Gene’s retirement is particularly noteworthy on a selfish, personal level as well. It just so happens that Gene entered the Richmond market the same year I entered this world. Put simply, Gene has anchored the news here for literally my entire life.
I won’t pretend that he’s had some profound effect on me personally. I say only that his retirement is yet another reminder of the inescapable reality with which he himself now deals: Everything changes. Everything ends.
His has been a career that is worthy of all its accolades. The conventional wisdom on Gene seems to have come full circle after three-plus decades. Some perceived him to be aloof or even disinterested as time passed. His Twitter feed has reminded us more recently that we shouldn’t confuse a razor-sharp dry wit for indifference.
I certainly would never presume to speak for the rest of Richmond. But, whatever Gene decides to do next, I know two things:
1. He’s earned it.
2. I’ll be watching.