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Virginian-Pilot profile of long-time employee helped by personal touch

Philip Walzer, The Virginian-Pilot

Philip Walzer of the Virginian-Pilot connects one man’s faith to losing his long-time job at International Paper in a touching and revealing profile that was among this year’s Society of Business Editors and Writers award winners. | Longtime employee says goodbye to International Paper mill

Longtime employee says goodbye to International Paper mill

Ralph Vincent walks into work on his last day at International Paper. Photo: Ross Taylor/The Virginian-Pilot

After introducing the worker’s wife in the lede, Walzer writes:

“Their life together had been built on his job at the paper mill, where he had worked for nearly two-thirds of his 51 years, following his father and grandfathers, and their vibrant faith as Jehovah’s Witnesses. Ralph often preaches and teaches Bible classes at the Kingdom Hall in Franklin; Debbie and their three children, ages 18 to 27, who all live at home, knock on doors 70 hours a month to spread Jehovah’s word.

Now one of those foundations had been shaken loose.

International Paper announced in October that it would close the mill this year. Eleven hundred people would lose their jobs. Paper production stopped in April. Vincent and 52 others finished on Friday, leaving 165 at the mill.”

Walzer met Ralph Vincent at a job fair for the paper mill workers. The job fair produced a daily piece focusing on the moods of the workers. But Walzer wanted to take it farther.

Today’s Tip: Remember that there is more to someone than his or her job.

“I spoke with Ralph at length about his history at the mill. But we also talked about his family and his beliefs as a Jehovah’s Witness, and I made sure to attend one of his family’s religious study sessions,” he says. “Not only did that help me win his trust, it also gave me a better understanding of Ralph and enabled me to offer a deeper portrait of him and how he approached the end of his career at the mill.”

Walzer says he drove an hour each way to visit Vincent’s house about four times. His last trip was for Ralph’s last shift. He followed him to work, waited in the parking lot because he and photographer Ross Taylor weren’t allowed in the mill, and then followed him home to talk to him after it was done.

“If we had gone straight from the mill back to the newspaper, we would have missed what turned out to be the emotional climax of the article, when he leaned against his truck outside his house and couldn’t restrain his tears.”

In Economy, Featured.

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