The same parking lot

Published 10:07 pm Friday, November 9, 2012

By Dennis Edwards

If not huddled in my father’s arms, I was always holding his hand. Maybe holding a finger or two is more accurate. But holding on. All was right in my world when he led me through the parking lot at the Suffolk News-Herald to deliver his copy for the next day’s “Colored News” section.

All was right, that is, until it wasn’t any more. One day in November 1960, Leroy Thornton Edwards Sr. left home to go to church and didn’t come back. He died of a heart attack at 45 and never got to say goodbye. I was 4. Leroy Jr. was 9.

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My father was among the first black news reporters at the Suffolk News-Herald. He had been a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, fought hand to hand in the Battle of the Bulge and came home with his wife Lorraine to start an accounting business, become a print journalist and raise two boys.

But the articles stopped, and so did some big dreams that Sunday morning. Fortunately, memories don’t stop when reality changes. I remember playing all over his desk. I crawled through his legs while the rat-a-tat-tat of that old manual typewriter filled his office as he worked deadline.

He died two days before John Kennedy was elected president, at the height of the civil rights movement and before Vietnam. But in me Leroy Edwards Sr. left behind a sense of wonder about life that transcended his death.

Call it compassionate curiosity. The kind he showed when he wrote about a man who died in a car crash during the summer of 1959. He got it done right, well and on time. Those ethics gradually emerged in me until I embraced the profession and the faith at my father’s core.

His journalistic approach came out of a deep love of Christ and church. He’d seen the grace of God up close during World War II when a German shell exploded next to his Jeep. A close friend died in battle that day. Dad didn’t.

Years later, I studied broadcast journalism at Virginia Union University and later accepted the call to ministry through First Baptist Church Mahan. I was born there, raised there, baptized, licensed to preach, married, ordained to ministry and sent off to do television news from there.

It’s amazing what’s woven into sons through their fathers’ professional and spiritual DNA. I became the first black male anchor/reporter at Richmond’s WTVR-TV 6 and the pastor of what is now Garland Avenue Baptist Church.

From there I was a weekend anchor at KPLR-TV, St. Louis; an anchor/reporter at Raleigh’s WRAL-TV 5. Then came Detroit’s CNN-Midwest and WDIV-TV 4, where I earned a major-market Emmy and several nominations for undercover reporting on the plight of the homeless.

My move to Baltimore 20 years ago immersed me in four White House administrations, 9/11, the deadly rampage of Malvo and Mohammed and more brutal drug- and gang-related murders than I can remember.

Now I’m home again after 38 years. I wonder what my father would think about me writing a column for the Suffolk News-Herald. Who knows? Maybe he’s still walking with me through the same parking lot? Maybe he’s reminding me that parents never really let go of their children’s fingers.

Or maybe he’d just want to know: Who says you can’t take the next step in life from the same parking lot where you last held your father’s hand?