By Guy Chapman – Navarro County Gazette

Yes We Can

I was reminded of a valuable lesson this weekend about the path I’ve chosen for my career.

As a journalist, it is my responsibility to share news. My intention for the Navarro County Gazette has always been a “lighter” presentation of that content, more focused on positive and community oriented stories.

Sometimes, especially now in our current environment, reporting has required me to discuss some hard truths. In the efforts to be “breaking” on larger, more relevant news these last two years, I’ve often sat at a computer to write about facts, while not processing what I’m feeling as myself or as part of my community.

I had a similar experience last year when the influence of COVID-19 could no longer be ignored. I began to sit in on numerous conference calls about what our first responders were preparing to do. One of those earliest interviews was sitting down with Dr. Kent Rogers. Like so many others, I wasn’t sure what to make of this situation. A “global pandemic” was still too surreal a concept to process. I asked Rogers what could we expect for those next few weeks, and he clarified those facts accurately. He knew the projected data, and he didn’t mince words with me.

I didn’t sleep that night.

A few days later, I saw those predicted changes come to pass, as we began to distance and masks became more common. I listened to our city leadership make the majority vote to “shelter in place.” I remember shaking as the realization settled in this wasn’t another one of those viruses that skirted along our personal bubbles, but until now, had never affected us. But I kept writing. It was my job.

I kept writing as lines formed at grocery stores, and people mass collected toilet paper. There were assurances all of this “would be over in a few days,” though in retrospect, I should have asked for clarification as to how long a time frame those “days” actually were.

Over the next few months, I’d hear Dr. Rogers speak about what the county was doing to protect its residents, and what we need to do to protect ourselves. He was firm and no-nonsense, but personable and compassionate. Dr. Rogers wanted people to understand the severity of what we were dealing with, and did so in an understandable manner.

As the months passed, and I later became an independent journalist, I found the posts on Dr. Rogers’ page invaluable for statistics and updates. And yet, there was so much more to his posts. He really tried to explain why we were doing the things we were asked to. He shared health advice and family updates, and then would end every post cheering on a sports team. I’d sometimes read the end first to see who he’d call out for the day.

I chuckled whenever someone put a mask on his bronze statue downtown. It seemed appropriate, and a little rebellious. And it amused me thinking of someone taking the time to frequently do this over the course of 2020.

The last time I heard from him was the Gazette‘s community holiday greeting, where he shared a message of “Can’t wait to shout ‘Adios’ to 2020.”

In the last few weeks, Dr. Rogers was diagnosed with COVID-19 and hospitalized. He still kept updating the community, sharing posts on how to protect ourselves. At one point, his messaging stopped, and even then, I hoped for the best. Part of writing media based around positivity is that you keep looking for the good even when times are hard.

While running errands this weekend, the news of his condition was updated on his Facebook page. By the time I got home, Dr. Kent Rogers had passed away.

It’s natural to grieve in times of loss and sadness. I had personally grown fond of him through our brief conversations and his social media updates. I felt like the wind was knocked out of me when I heard the news, but I sat down, opened my laptop, and wrote an update about his passing.

That’s part of telling the news. It’s not always easy. We don’t get a moment to pause and process our emotions when something happens. We sit and have to be impartial, writing about what we know, no matter how tight our stomach gets, or when a lump in our throat swells, or our mind races in ways that risk distracting us from the task at hand.

I didn’t want to write Saturday’s piece. Not out of disrespect, but because I personally wasn’t ready to process it yet. Seeing the words on the screen made it more real than I was ready to deal with. My mind kept trailing back to our talk last March. But the community needed to know of his passing. I needed to do my job.

When the last word was written, and I hit “Post” to send the article, I closed my laptop, and I allowed myself to be a part of the community again. I allowed myself a moment to grieve.

I didn’t sleep last night.

I drove by his downtown statue this morning, adorned with flowers and thank you gifts, and I offered a “Thank you” of my own. His fight to preserve the general health and safety was tireless. I hope his passing is a wake up call for all of us to do our part, and as he was fond of saying, “Block your man.”

Dr. Rogers reminded me why I continue to do this line of work. People need to understand how and why things work the way they do. When times are difficult, we need a guide to find our moments of hope and inspiration. Facts matter, and we need to understand where we’ve come from in order to see where we’re going.

We can still learn a lot from Kent Rogers. I will personally do what I can to carry on his message and mission.

People from around the community place flowers and gifts around the statue of Dr. Kent Rogers after his passing. – Photo by Guy Chapman
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