On June 3, my friend Jay will have been dead for as long as he lived -- 23 years.

I've lived twice as long as my college roommate, and I sometimes wonder why his life ended so early. He was out of college less than a year and working in his first professional job when he drowned.

His co-workers from the newspaper had taken him "tubing" on the Salt River in Arizona. He wasn't wearing a lifejacket. Minutes before, he had joked how expensive it would be if he died and his body had to be shipped back to Pennsylvania. It proved to be an ominous statement.

Days later, a few of his many friends gathered in our hometown, awaiting news of his fate. His body had not been found, and we were hoping against hope that Jay had somehow survived. That evening was eerily like the movie "The Big Chill," except we were only in our early 20s. The news came that night from another former roommate who now worked as a reporter at our hometown paper. The story of Jay's body being found had moved on the wire.

Until then, we hadn't considered our mortality. College days were filled with optimism and idealism. We weren't too careful with our bodies, either. Smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol were our pastimes -- practically rituals of college life in the 1970s.

Jay was a special person. He was extremely personable and likable, and he had a quick wit and wry sense of humor. He was a fine writer, preferring to remain an English major despite his eventual career in journalism.

Only six months before he died, I had arranged for an interview for him at the weekly newspaper I was editing near Pittsburgh. He was offered the job, but he declined. He knew he could find a position at a daily if he moved farther from home, to the growing Southwest. It also fit his adventuresome spirit. Still, his girlfriend sensed he missed the Northeast.

A bird is engraved on his tombstone, a reference to his nickname, Jaybird, as he was known to some family members. This is how I choose to remember his spirit as it lives on in me and others. We all learned something about life from him, and I won't ever forget him.

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If you think first impressions aren't important, think again.

A new business could come to Valdosta based on a man's impression of Valdosta as he came through spontaneously during a vacation.

Our city is on his short list of prospects for relocating the headquarters of the West Coast manufacturing facility. Vicki Hughes, assistant director of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Industrial Authority, reported this news last week.

We're glad he was impressed, but we're sure he missed some of the eyesores throughout town: commercial and residential buildings obviously neglected by their owners. Even some churches look pretty sad.

Each of us needs to take pride in what our community looks like, not only for outsiders who might invest their money here, but for fellow citizens and neighbors.

How many garish signs have you seen? How much trash goes flying off the backs of pickup trucks? How much paint do you see peeling from walls on a given day?

We all need to do more, especially along the busier thoroughfares of the city and county.

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Ron Wayne is editor of The Valdosta Daily Times. He can be reached at 244-3400, ext. 229, or e-mailed at ron.wayne@gaflnews.com.



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