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It’s curious how life can turn on a moment. Sometimes with just an idea.

For us, it was 20 years ago this spring when my wife, Tamara, asked the simple question, “What about here?”

It was a question that popped up as we were absorbing the bucolic beauty of southern Sonoma County having just visited my mom who had retired to Sonoma. At the time, we were living in Mountain View but were hopscotching around the West Coast looking to find a place to settle and start a family, knowing we were never going to make it work financially in the South Bay.

“Well, they have a newspaper up here called The Press Democrat,” I said. “It’s owned by the New York Times and is very respected. But there’s one problem. They rarely ever have any openings. Nobody ever leaves that paper.”

Sometimes, however, fate has its own answer.

The next day, I opened a copy of Editor & Publisher magazine and there was an ad for an editorial writer at The Press Democrat. Here was the position that I was hoping to find — at the very newspaper we had just discussed. Tamara couldn’t believe it. She also couldn’t believe it when, several months later, I was offered the job.

The hardest thing to believe now is all that occurred two decades ago — and that it is all winding to a close.

I hate to say it, but it’s come time for me to leave The Press Democrat and retire from daily journalism — after more than 35 years in the business.

I don’t make this decision lightly, and I am not actually retiring. Far from it. In fact, my son — whose swift and complicated birth I reported in one of my first columns long ago — and I will both soon be heading off to college. He will be going to one of a half-dozen colleges where he has been accepted. We’re heading out on Monday to visit some of these places.

For me, there is but one campus. I’ll soon be moving over to Sonoma State University, where I’ll be the director of communications and community relations. For the past five years, I have been the faculty adviser for the Sonoma State Star, the campus newspaper, and I’m looking forward to the opportunities this new position presents, including being on campus full time, helping the university tell its story and build connections and, maybe, take some classes myself. Being around students is the best cure for cynicism, even mild cases like mine.

But leaving is not easy, especially when it comes at a time when I have never been more proud of any publication for which I have worked. The efforts of this newspaper over the past six months have been remarkable, and I’m pleased to see that they are being recognized.

Last week, in case you missed it, the The Press Democrat was honored with one of the most prestigious awards in American journalism — the American Society of News Editors award for Breaking News Writing. This was in recognition of the online and print coverage during the first 24 hours of the Oct. 8 firestorm.

This staff’s reporting on the wildfires also has been honored with a first-place award for Breaking News Reporting in the annual Best of the West contest, a competition that involves news organizations in 14 western states.

It still gives me pause when I think of all my colleagues overcame to cover what happened during those terrible early hours of the fire. (For those, who haven’t read my column about what took place internally here at The Press Democrat during the fire, click here.)

I leave with great respect for the talent in this newsroom, particularly among the young writers, who come to this profession warned, as I was long ago, that journalism is a dying business. It’s not. As long as there are stories that need to be told, particularly at the local level, we will need people to research them, write them and tell them.

I also leave with deep appreciation for the owners of this newspaper, particularly Steve Falk, the CEO of Sonoma Media Investments, and Darius Anderson, the controlling partner of the investment team, who returned The Press Democrat to local ownership more than five years ago.

I have witnessed firsthand what can happen when such a transition doesn’t happen and when a good community newspaper fails to meet the outsized financial expectations of corporate ownership. They turn out the lights.

It happened 25 years ago last month at the Peninsula Times Tribune, a Palo Alto-based newspaper owned by the Tribune Co. Formerly known as the Palo Alto Times, it was a publication that I had delivered as a youth and was working for as a columnist and editor. It was similar in size to The Press Democrat. But it was abruptly closed in 1993 even as a group of local business owners were negotiating to buy the assets. It still breaks my heart. The newspaper had just turned 100 years old, and its absence, in many ways, is still felt in that corner of the Bay Area.

Having owners who live in Sonoma County, read the newspaper, invest in it and weigh its success on something beyond just profits is a true gift to this region. I know many people will probably never fully understand or believe that. But it’s true nonetheless.

I also leave with appreciation to those with whom I have worked in the editorial department beginning with former Editorial Director Pete Golis, who took a chance on hiring me long ago, and, most recently, Assistant Editorial Director Jim Sweeney, who has been the backbone of this department for the past decade.

I also leave with deep gratitude to the readers, from longtime elected officials to people who wrote even though they were just passing through town. Your commitment and engagement with this newspaper is the truest measure of its success.

Finally, I want to call special attention to those who have not received our endorsements, who have been targets of our criticism in our editorials and have disagreed vehemently with our opinions, but have remained faithful readers and, in many cases, my friends. My respect for you leaves me, well, speechless.

OK, just one final thought. If you include my time working at my high school newspaper and studying journalism in college, this is really the end of a 45-year career, one that dates back to when I was a newspaper carrier. But, frankly, it wasn’t a particularly lucrative business opportunity for me. As a paper boy, my income hinged on collecting payment each month. Let’s just say taking care of accounts receivable was not my forte. Some people never seemed to be home when I came knocking, and while I had the right to stop delivering their newspaper after a certain period of nonpayment, I never had the heart.

I didn’t do a lot of reading beyond the sports pages in those days. But I knew what I was doing was important — that somehow depositing this amalgamation of ink, sweat and wood pulp on walkways and porches each day brought value to the lives of people around me. It made us all better investors, consumers, parents, students, business people, volunteers and neighbors. Most of all it made us more interesting individuals, better prepared to interact with others whether over a corporate conference table or a back fence.

These were and are words that bind us as a community.

I still believe in that. It’s why I have been in this business for so long, I guess. And it’s why, when I’m walking down the street and I see a newspaper on the sidewalk, I’ll still flip it up on the porch.

Because I know how important that information can be — how life can turn on a moment. Sometimes with just an idea.

And it’s been an honor to be part of it all.

Paul Gullixson will step down as editorial director for The Press Democrat on Monday. Email him at pgullixson@sbcglobal.net or at paul.gullixson@sonoma.edu.

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