Scott Colonel Witten managed something most journalists simply can’t.
While going about the business of covering Robeson and Scotland counties for the past three decades, Scott performed his job ably, but he also stockpiled a mountain of friends along the way. Journalists, because their job is to tell the truth, which is not always appreciated, often end up sacrificing friendships, not building them.
It might be a stretch to say that everyone who knew Scott liked him, but it’s not a long stretch. And we say this with certainty: His co-workers adored Scott, not only for his ability to mentor young journalists, but for his famous friendship, his generosity, his story-telling and his penchant for the practical joke. He was always thoughtful, and often thought-provoking.
Scott died this past Sunday at age 51, succumbing to bad health that he had endured for about 20 years. Although he had been sick, his death was unexpected. His body, ravaged from kidney failure, two decades of dialysis, and one kidney transplant that provided some relief for a few years, finally just wore out.
Scott attended what is now The University of North Carolina at Pembroke, and although he never finished his degree, he was plenty ready to work when he arrived at The Robesonian as a reporter on Nov. 18, 1988. A bear of a man, he was a teddy. He walked in with an easy smile, quickly established himself as an excellent reporter and an even better wordsmith, and his journalism future seemed assured.
During the 30 years since, he remained either in Robeson County or nearby, working as a reporter, and managing editor at The Robesonian, and then as editor of both the Red Springs Citizen and the Laurinburg Exchange, which was his final gig. He might have spread his wings even farther except for the health crisis he suffered around 2001, when his kidneys failed him, sentencing him to dialysis, a fate that includes sitting with a needle in your arm three or four times a week for hours at a time as your body is cleansed of toxins.
Dialysis isn’t only brutal when it is being administered, but it saps you of strength afterward — and we were both inspired by, and in awe of, Scott’s ability to find the energy to work through it all. He could have at any point, we believe, opted for and been granted disability. No one would have blamed him, and at times, when we knew the pain was getting to be too much, he was encouraged to do so.
But Scott was driven to work, and journalism was his passion until the end.
Scott leaves behind a laudable legacy. The communities in which he worked benefited from the stories that he shared, and those of us who worked with him were blessed to join him for what was often a long, strange trip. He could handle any kind of news, but he preferred the good to the bad. He understood a newspaper’s ability to put the best face on a community, and he worked toward that end.
Already this newspaper has heard from many of Scott’s former colleagues who are scattered about, wanting to know what happened and the details of Scott’s funeral, which will be Friday in his native Cumberland County. If the early interest is an indication, there will be quite the reunion of former Robesonian newsroom staff that day.
Scott will have brought us together once again, but on this day there will be more tears than laughs.
It won’t be the same without him — ever again.