"I've watched my newspaper grow, shopping centers go up, churches built and highways paved (in Columbia County). I feel like a tiny part of a now big-time operation. It's been such a privilege..."
-- Former News-Times correspondent Lois McGill
Years ago, when the population of Columbia County was less than half what it is today, and her communities more like separate towns than the current urban metropolis, The Columbia News hired local women to gather news each week from their sections of the county.
Lovingly called "gossip columnists," these women -- and their "gossip" -- became one of the paper's more popular features.
Some of these women are no longer with us, including Lois McGill who died this past week. Fortunately, in the spring of 1989, I was privileged to interview each of these women for a "feature" of their own. Today, I happily share excerpts from my May 17, 1989, article on Lois McGill.
"I live in an old-timey house on an old-timey road, right where I've been for more than half my life."
Lois McGill, Martinez correspondent for The News-Times, settled back in her chair to talk about the old-timey days when her community consisted of a few residents scattered around in small subdivisions, four general stores, a small, wooden post office, and every child in town went to one school over in Evans.
Originally from Lincolnton, the McGills had moved to Martinez so her husband would be closer to the Savannah River Plant (now SRS) where he worked. Martinez was a compromise between the Plant and the cattle farm they left behind but continued to operate for many years.
"We arrived in Columbia County with four children, and soon we had six, so you can see I've been busy."
Busy collecting information for her newspaper column, too, as well as raising children, working in a pharmacy and, for a short time, managing a variety store where a used-car dealership is now.
She lived on Roberts Road, the short stretch behind Abilene Baptist Church and almost next door to the old News-Times office, in what used to be called Columbia Heights. Julian Roberts, owner of Roberts Motor Co. in Augusta, developed the property, naming Haley and Ruth Streets after members of his family, and Roberts and Plymouth Roads after himself and one of the cars he sold at his dealership.
As faithful Baptists, the McGills were members of Abilene, although the church wasn't located across the street as it is now.
"Abilene was a small church then, with only 70 members meeting in a small building on Old Evans Road. But the church was faithful and today she has a lot of daughters and granddaughters."
By this she means that Abilene, the third-oldest Baptist Church in Georgia, is the parent church of Warren, Pineview and West Acres Baptist Churches, as well as a strong support behind both Martinez Baptist and Evans Baptist (now First Baptist Church of Evans).
The News-Times office wasn't always on Roberts Road, either, nor did it always have its own home and a circulation in the tens of thousands.
"When I first started writing for the paper, I took my copy over to the editor's house. I've worked for several editors and watched the paper move from place to place: a room down at the post office, a trailer on Davis Road, and then right where I live."
But whoever the editors were and wherever she took her copy, McGill said she enjoyed her work at The News-Times, even though didn't consider herself columnist material.
"I'm no writer," she said, "but I've always loved to think and write things down. I didn't get any encouragement from my family, either," she said, laughing, "but I decided to do it anyway. I've enjoyed all the editors I worked with and all the people who called me and shared their news."
She said she was doubly grateful to her callers when she recognized with some sadness that Martinez had grown too large for one correspondent to penetrate the area alone.
"Time was," she said, "when everyone knew everyone else, their ambitions, what their children were doing, and the other joys and sorrows of community life." Still, though she had undergone three surgeries in the previous year, she continued writing her column because she cherished her lingering contact with the community as it once was.
"The day will come when I have to give it up," she concluded, "but not yet."
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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