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Saying goodbye to our ‘go-to gal’

By Staff | Sep 11, 2009

Over the past 37 years, people have called our office and heard a familiar voice answer by saying, “Tribune. Phyllis Wiggins.”

After nearly four decades, that familiar voice is leaving us for retirement.

I can’t help but wonder how we are going to get along without her. Phyllis is our go-to gal around here. Whenever you’re in need, the common phrase is, “Ask Phyllis.”

Need the phone number for the courthouse? Ask Phyllis. Need to know where to tuck in that comma? Ask Phyllis. Have a predicament? Ask Phyllis. Need to know how to spell predicament? Ask Phyllis.

Thirty-seven years is a long time to be at one job. College graduates don’t leave school and expect to stay at the same job for 37 years. Heck, the average length of time an American spends at one job these days is four years. She’s seen people come and go over the years. Once in a while someone’s name is mentioned around the office and Phyllis will say, “She worked here at one time.” Apparently, almost everyone has worked at The Tribune over the course of our 122-year history.

She’s done just about every job in this office from A to Z and everything in between. Can you imagine how many words Phyllis has typed over the course of 37 years? She was here before the dawn of computers and used to sit behind a typesetting “machine” and pound out every letter. She’s weathered every change -and there have been a lot of them over the years. Keeping up with technology brings about many changes.

She’s also our reigning queen of grammar. No one can catch and correct an error like she can. These days it’s hard to find someone who knows the rules of grammar inside and out. Oh, sure there are people like me who can get the basic stuff like punctuation and capitalization, but I’m talking about the grammar rules that most people have mentally blocked out from a traumatic experience in junior high English class. You know, the ones like split infinitives and prepositional phrases. She can get you out of those gray areas like dangling participles and sticky situations like who vs. whom and that vs. which.

Phyllis often credits her formidable, demanding and hard-nosed junior high and high school English teachers for teaching her the rules of grammar and linguistics. We all should have been so fortunate to have Phyllis’s English teachers.

We strive to be error-free here at The Tribune, and nobody’s perfect. But Phyllis is about as close as you’re gonna get. I shudder to think of Phyllis reading our newspaper after she leaves us and spotting all the rules of grammar that we have violated. Let’s hope our readers realize that without Phyllis there may be a few more errors each week.

Now that we can no longer “Ask Phyllis” we’ll all have to invest in a good old-fashioned AP style book. Maybe she’ll be kind enough to leave us her worn-out copy. It’s always just been easier to ask the resident expert.

As a newspaper writer, you are only as good as your copy editor. A copy editor’s job is to check your work for accuracy and consistency while correcting all errors in grammar and sentence structure. Our stories get read two or sometimes three times after we write them just to check for errors. Just think of how many pages Phyllis has proofread. Can you imagine how many corrections she’s made over the past 37 years?

A loyal, hard-working, conscientious worker like Phyllis is hard to come by. I’m a better writer and a better person for having worked along side her. Thanks, Phyllis.

I still don’t know who I’m going to ask with all those pesky questions when she’s gone. I hope she leaves us her phone number so I can still hear that familiar voice every once in a while.

Mullally is a Tribune writer.

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