When Dolly Parton asked me if I would like to buy Dollywood, the theme park she owns in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, I was flattered and a bit surprised. I could tell during the few minutes we had been conversing that it was important to her to find someone she could trust with her pride and joy.

Travis Naughton

As intriguing as the opportunity was, I knew that I had neither the finances nor the desire to own and operate a multi-million-dollar business. I thanked Dolly for thinking me worthy of carrying on her legacy, and then I politely declined her offer. She was disappointed of course, but smiled bravely as she boarded her tour bus, waved goodbye, and disappeared into the ether.

This was an actual dream I had last weekend. As random and odd as the dream was, it felt very, very real. I remember waking up and thinking how pleasant Dolly Parton was to visit with and how sorry I was to see her go. A certain melancholy stayed with me for the rest of that morning.

In hindsight, I don’t think the dream was so random at all. In fact, I think it was a subconscious metaphor for a similar situation playing out right now in real life, here in Southern Boone County.

Last week, my good friend (and publisher of the Boone County Journal) Mr. Bruce Wallace, announced his intentions to retire from the newspaper business. Unlike Dream Dolly, Bruce has not explicitly asked me to buy his business, although a subliminal hint may have been dropped here or there in recent conversations. Nevertheless, this intriguing opportunity is much more realistic than acquiring Dollywood.

But just as it was in Dreamland, I have neither the finances nor the desire to own and operate a business in the real world. Money can be borrowed, but what it truly boils down to is that I do not possess the will to work even half as hard as Bruce Wallace has worked for the 16 years he has owned the Boone County Journal.

Since 2001, Bruce has attended pretty much every single city council and school board meeting, most high school football, soccer, basketball, softball, and volleyball games, track meets, concerts, musicals, and plays as well as countless middle school, elementary school, and primary school events. He reports on every local news story, writes editorials, sells advertisements and subscriptions, formats layouts, takes photographs, and arranges the printing and distribution of a weekly newspaper that readers hold to a high-standard of quality no matter if Bruce has a new grandbaby to visit half a continent away or an overwhelming urge to hide-out in the woods for a week or two.

Being the publisher of a small-market newspaper is a very demanding and very important job. Despite having the Internet and Facebook to help us stay in touch with one another, local newspapers are still the glue that holds small communities together. Southern Boone County is fortunate to have a locally owned and operated newspaper in this increasingly digital and impersonal age. And the word “fortunate” doesn’t even begin to express how lucky we are to have a man like Bruce Wallace as a member of our Southern Boone family.

Bruce’s contributions to our community are too numerous and invaluable to quantify. Over the last decade and a half, he has touched the lives of virtually every single person living among us—especially me. Bruce has been my friend and mentor for over six years. He has taught me a great deal about both the art of writing and the art of diplomacy. He has called me to the carpet when I’ve crossed the line of respectful discourse, and he has defended me against all of my critics without fail and without reservation. Bruce Wallace is a kind and decent man who possesses a strong work ethic and a love for his community. No one will be able to fill his shoes when he retires, least of all me.

Maybe the news of Bruce’s impending retirement is really just another dream I had. The possibility of his stepping away doesn’t seem as real as my conversation with Dolly Parton did. If it turns out to be true, then I will be very sorry to see my friend go. And that melancholy feeling I’ll have will stay with me for the rest of my life.

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