Tragedy cast a long shadow but did not define Miss Nancy

By Layne Bruce

bruce,layne
Layne Bruce

KOSCIUSKO — The morning of March 4, 2002 was innocuous enough. Those of us at The Star-Herald were going through motions not unlike what would happen on any given Monday at any other given weekly newspaper.

That meant attending meetings — the Board of Supervisors in my case, closing out the classified pages, and updating renewals for the week to ensure subscribers received the newspaper.

I was editor and publisher of the paper, nearing four years there over two different tours of duty.

Nancy Green, then 66, would have been working on her weekly “People & Events” feature that Monday morning. Nancy had been on the job for nearly 50 years. She started just out of school as a typesetter, but she spent the majority of her career as the lifestyles — or society — editor, chronicling the births, engagements, and everyday lives of Attala County residents.

There was little of value that happened in that county that escaped her notice. She was a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge about the community, its people, and the events that made up its history. She was a staffer with the kind of longevity few newspapers still had  but all would find indispensable.

Never pretentious but always proper, Nancy took her lunch hour at the same precise time every day — 11:30 a.m., and nearly always made her way home to share a meal with her husband Charles at their residence just outside the northwest city limits.  On cue, she’d always be back at her desk at the front of the newsroom by 12:30 p.m.

The events of that day, though, shattered that rigid normalcy for the rest of Nancy’s life.

THE CALL CAME into the office around 11:40.

When I picked up the receiver, I knew it was Nancy, but I could not interpret what she was trying to tell me in her panicked exasperation.

After a few seconds, I had the gist of it. Something had happened at the house, and she could not find Charles.

I told her to call the sheriff’s department (she had), to sit tight, and that I would be there in a few minutes. It was an agonizing drive to their house; it seemed to take forever on the two-lane roads of the city and county.

By the time I arrived, the Sheriff and other law enforcement personnel were on the scene. And they shared the unthinkable news: Charles was dead. He’d been murdered just inside the carport door of the home.

It was a horrific crime and a scene that etches itself into your mind for the rest of your days.

Nancy sat stoically in her car, surrounded by lawmen and neighbors who had turned up amid the bustle.

Charles was a catfish farmer and was known to keep cash at the house. That was the most likely motive for the crime, investigators surmised.

But the case quickly ran cold. Few leads, fewer viable suspects.

Nancy, to my surprise — shock, really — returned to that house to live within a few weeks’ time. The crime scene had been cleared, of course, and the residence fortified by a new security system.  But I could not fathom the strength necessary for someone to return to a home so tainted by tragedy — and to do so while there was no suspect in custody for the crime.

It took seven years for a man to be arrested, charged, and convicted.

Her family, the staff of the newspaper, and her many friends encircled her in those days with support and as much comfort as could be mustered.

NANCY DIED May 1 at 83.

The tributes that flooded the newspaper after she passed were testimonials to a woman who was truly exceptional and unrivaled in character.

Other than reporting for the newspaper at the time of the murder, I’ve never written about Nancy’s personal story in those days and years that followed. And I only share it now as proof she never let the tragedy define her life even though it cast a permanent shadow over it.

Nancy’s ability to comport herself with her usual good nature and generous spirit even as it took years to achieve real closure over Charles’ loss is an example most of us can only hope to imitate should we ever find ourselves living under such a terrible cloud.

My heart is very blue over her death, but at the same time, it’s warmed by many good memories and the knowledge she’s at peace. She was a treasured friend, valued colleague, and my “Kosciusko mom.”

It is difficult to imagine the newspaper and the community without Miss Nancy — she worked at The Star-Herald until the day before she died.

That kind of fortitude is as rare as precious metal. And the memories of her grace and good nature are as everlasting.

Layne Bruce is executive director of MPA-MPS. His email address is lbruce@mspress.org.

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Author: Mississippi Press Association

The Mississippi Press Association is the trade group for 110 member newspapers and affiliated digital media.

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