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CLINE: Another year of fascinating encounters

Todd Cline

Todd Cline

If you’re like me, you’re stuck this week between the modes of looking back and planning ahead. The new year is almost here, and once it is it will be full steam ahead.

But the next couple of days give us time to reflect, and for me that includes revisiting the people and topics I’ve written about over the past 12 months. What seems like a very ordinary task — writing a weekly column — adds up over the year, leaving 52 entries credited to your byline.

That number includes some you wish you could do over, some you wish you never did at all and a few that make you proud. As I looked back over my year, I’m reminded of how lucky I am to have a job that allows me to meet the spectrum of people I get to cross paths with.

Last year started with a column about an old friend. Dana Davis, former Greater Atlanta Christian girls basketball coach and a long-time teacher at the school, is a cancer survivor who has a weekly column of his own.

It’s actually an e-mail letter that he sends to family and friends, and it covers everything from faith and family to perseverance. The point of my column is the way Davis remains so upbeat despite going through some tough times with multiple mylemo. I thought it was a good message and a good way to start off the year.

But Davis was hardly the only dynamic personality I wrote about in 2010. One subject who motivated me was Valeska Waters. All the Lilburn resident did during the year of her 92nd birthday was climb Stone Mountain, parasail in Florida and pilot a dog sled in Alaska.

Her feats made me feel bad for complaining about being tired after mowing the lawn. And her advice for staying spry is good for us all:

“You go back a step if you don’t exercise every day,” she said. “You hear people say: ‘I don’t feel like it today.’ Well, if you don’t exercise you aren’t going to feel like it tomorrow either. I want to get going. I don’t like being still all of the time.”

Jim Mackel and Tom Hutton were men who never stayed still, either.

Mackel passed away in October after a long battle with cancer. He was remembered as the driving force behind the Lawrenceville Youth Association and a fervent booster of Central Gwinnett High School. He was one of the people who came up with the idea of Central building a press box that resembles a castle and was remembered as a “relentless worker” who taught players more than just sports skills.

Hutton, known as “Hutt” to friends, was a person I had written about before. And in 2010 I was able to report about the honor the Collins Hill Athletic Association bestowed upon him, naming a field after the late umpire.

This year I also wrote a column about heroes. It was a tough one, trying to describe the heroics of multiple people in such a small space. There was Marie Payne, who saved a man’s life on Intestate 85 by using her car to block the man’s vehicle after he had an apparent heart attack and slumped over the steering wheel.

She was one of five people honored by the Gwinnett County Fire Department in February. She joined Ken Manning, Will Hamilton and Lance Cook — who saved their teammate Mike Lulko after he went into cardiac arrest during a basketball game — and Jim Fuller, who saved a choking patron at a local restaurant. These are true heroes, every day folks who did the extraordinary when it was needed.

Those are just some of the people I was able to highlight this past year. There were many more, all with interesting stories. But sometimes it’s best left for young children to sum things up.

This past year I wrote columns about being Principal for a Day at Lilburn Elementary, speaking to the yearbook staff a Lanier High and also speaking at Brookwood Elementary along with sports editor Will Hammock.

The thank you letters we received from the fifth-grade class at Brookwood Elementary were thoughtful, and in some cases very funny as well. Among the best lines:

• “You inspired me to be a newspaper photographer. It seems more fun than being a lawyer.”

• “It’s cool and interesting how you got to be in the Gwinnett Daily Post, but my legs started hurting during the questions. But thanks for coming.”

Here’s to a great 2011, and to hoping your legs don’t start hurting while reading these columns. Thanks for reading.

E-mail Todd Cline at todd.cline@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Wednesdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/toddcline.