Joe Wiggins was many things,
but vague wasn’t one of them
By GRAHAM OSTEEN
Editor and Publisher
I’ve heard a lot of stories about Joe Wiggins.
Most people start their tale with, “Now you can’t put this in the newspaper, but...” They’ll then go on to tell some wickedly funny story about something “Joe” did, usually years ago, followed inevitably by a story of his generosity and commitment to Hartsville.
He was a true philanthropist, but he didn’t want anyone to know. That was his way. Dwight Dana’s story on page 1A today reflects those complexities, which are confirmed by his close friends of many years.
Mr. Wiggins was in poor health six years ago when our family bought The Hartsville Messenger from him.
Even though he was in terrible pain throughout that transition, he was a gracious gentleman who made it clear from the start that he wanted The Messenger to remain in the hands of an independent business like his own.
He said at the time: “I feel a sense of nostalgia about selling The Messenger after it has been in the family for so long – since 1921. But I am in poor health, unable to function effectively as publisher. I know The Messenger will benefit greatly from a vigorous young publisher – Mr. Osteen – who holds the same ideals of community service as I do.”
Mr. Wiggins was referring to my father in that interview, and it was 1997 before I actually became editor and publisher here. He visited me periodically, and we talked about the changes we had made to the paper and where we wanted it to be. He was honest about what he liked and disliked, and it was important to me that he thought we were doing a good job. The paper was his responsibility for so long that I knew he could never really think of it as being in the hands of someone else. There was always a little bit of awkwardness there, but we overcame it.
The one real sticking point we had was his column. I told him I wanted him to continue to write and submit columns, but I would reserve the right to run them or not. He didn’t like it, and I don’t blame him at all. It was his paper for too long to be subjected to editing decisions. He only wrote a handful of columns after that conversation, and I’m sorry he didn’t write more. He was a prolific and careful writer, and if you didn’t get the point then you weren’t reading carefully.
I got a taste of Mr. Wiggins’ “point of view” once not long after I got here. I was commuting from Sumter every day, redesigning the paper and doing a lot of the reporting at the time, so I was not disciplining myself enough to write two regular editorial columns a week. He noticed, and he let me know about it.
“The editorial column of a weekly newspaper is the province of the editor,” he wrote. “To use it to reprint material from other newspapers or persons is a dereliction of duty and an evasion of responsibility to the community. The Messenger and Hartsville deserve more attention and respect from the editor.”
I saved that letter, and I pull it out whenever I think I’m tired. Thanks for the motivation, Mr. Wiggins.