Columnist Lynda Waddington ended her journalism career on May 17, 2019.
While a few colleagues and community members anticipated the exit, most were surprised when she sat down her pen.
Waddington’s career, absolute fluke that it was, began at her hometown newspaper in 1988. It was during the final interview for that general reporting job her first editor uttered the hallowed words foreshadowing three decades of work: “I’m desperate, and you’re crazy. I’ll see you Monday.”
A pre-med college student turned double-major in psychology and sociology, Waddington wasn’t a typical journalist. She’d never fantasized about holding the powerful to account, and had no formal journalism training. She was several years into her career before she learned that she was to “afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” But she loved to write, explain complex problems and tell the stories of others.
As it turned out, she had at least some degree of talent, and ink barrels of luck. From weekly community papers to large daily publications, a host of capable and patient mentors helped guide her forward, professionally and personally.
Waddington’s final days at The Gazette, marked by supportive co-workers and enthusiastic readers, were among the best of her career.
“I never thought I’d see the day when The Gazette would run a headline that included ‘female genital mutilation,’” one co-worker commented, pointing to a Waddington column from late last year.
Weeks later, largely due to Waddington’s influence as part of the editorial board, the newspaper took an institutional stance in favor of a statewide ban on such practices.
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“I can’t believe such garbage has become the focus of the editorial board. This is what happens when women are allowed in on decision-making,” a frustrated reader responded.
Waddington spent a year focusing on rural Iowa — the year before rural roared onto the national stage in the 2016 election — representing those interests at a national conference in Washington, D.C. And she worked to position herself as a champion for underserved segments of the population. Affordable housing, food insecurity, public transit, veteran services, human rights and public health were frequently featured topics.
As the daughter of a World War II veteran and sister to a Vietnam veteran who gave his life in combat, as someone raised in a rural area, as a child who grew up in poverty, Waddington simply tried to write what she knew — and what she rarely saw other columnists addressing.
The drive manifested in two of her most read columns. “Disability isn’t so easy, even for the desperate” was a response to a Washington Post article on Social Security disability benefits reprinted in The Gazette. And, “Time to stop the Chicago blame game” was an effort to dispel misguided and persistent feelings that poverty, violence and a host of other local ills aren’t homegrown and wouldn’t exist if “others” didn’t bring them here.
Responses to these, and pretty much all of her writing, was mixed, just as she wanted.
A 2016 column highlighting the plight of Congolese immigrants sparked a few dedicated souls to volunteer — assistance that continues even now, she learned during her final days on the job.
Marion, the town Waddington and her family call home, has made a necessary investment in more robust public transit, and Cedar Rapids council members did ultimately approve a demonstration housing project.
Far more continues as unfinished business.
A wealth of well-wishes and “celebratory” messages marked her departure. Women, especially, lamented this outcome and pondered who would take up the mantle.
While Waddington felt blessed to be considered a spokeswoman of sorts, she remained adamant that she is a poor substitute for personal representation.
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“The best person to share your values, to speak your truth, is you,” she said before turning off the light and slipping out the door.
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