Bill Nemitz has been a Maine journalist for 45 years. This is his last column. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Dear Maine,

A cardinal rule in journalism is to not bury the lede. So, I won’t.

This is my final column.

My decision to retire came in January. It rose up from somewhere deep in my psyche, like that magical movie moment when Forrest Gump, after running here, there and everywhere for years, suddenly stopped in the middle of the road and proclaimed, “I’m pretty tired … I think I’ll go home now.”

Unlike Forrest, I’ve been toiling at home throughout the marathon latter stages of my 45-year career in the news business. But the never-ending deadlines, the constant focus not on the last story but on the next one, the middle-of-the-night panic that some wayward blunder had escaped my fact-checking, all have conspired lately to divert me from life’s other rewards.

I want to go fishing more with my grandsons. I want to go camping more with my dear wife, Andrea, without whom I couldn’t have written this column for two months, let alone 27 years. I want to revel in more time with our five children and their spouses – they make me prouder every day. I want to finish restoring the old barn across the road from my house that I bought with my oldest and best friend, Rich Downing.

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People often have asked me when I first knew I wanted to be a journalist. Thinking hard about it in recent days, I’ve distilled it down to my report cards when I was a kid going to parochial school outside Boston. On the back, there was one metric that tripped me up every time. It said simply: Self Control.

My problem? I loved to talk. While Sister Whatshername droned on at the head of the classroom, I’d start little conversations with anyone within whispered earshot – about the Red Sox, about last night’s action-packed episode of “The Rat Patrol,” about whatever might be ricocheting through my young mind at any given moment.

How blessed I was to actually make a living at that – to have had those conversations, thousands of them, with this great state that way back in 1977 I came to call home. If I could choose an unofficial companion to Maine’s motto of “Dirigo,” Latin for “I lead,” I’d go with “Nos Loqui,” or “We talk.”

It would take far more space than I have here to properly thank all the people who have touched my life so profoundly over those years. Editors who believed in me, sources who confided in me, people pushed out onto the public stage – often by circumstances beyond their control – who trusted me to tell their story. I’m indebted to each and every one. And as I grapple to this day with imposter syndrome, I remain humbled and a little amazed that they had time for me in the first place.

“You’re only as good as your sources,” Gene Letourneau, the late, great outdoors writer for the Guy Gannett newspapers, used to tell me back when I was a cub reporter at the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. “Don’t ever forget that.”

I haven’t. Nor will I forget the people who matter most in this ever-evolving newspaper business. That would be you, dear reader. You come to this gathering spot, day in and day out, because you care about the world around you. You understand, now more than ever, the value of truth over duplicity, transparency over opacity, knowledge over ignorance.

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I still have thousands of emails and handwritten notes you’ve sent me over the years – some laudatory, some not so much. One of my favorites queried, “How can someone who writes so well be such a complete idiot?” Must be my Irish genes.

A special pile contains the cards and get-well wishes so many of you sent me a few years back when I was battling Stage 4 cancer and, for a while, things looked bleak. You buoyed me through that storm with your prayers, gifts and words of encouragement. To this day, the first thing many of you ask is, “How’s your health?” It’s great, by the way. Thank God for science, immunotherapy and miracles large and small.

Earlier this week, Andrea opened a box that she keeps in the bedroom and quietly began laying out some of its contents on the dining room table.

There’s the New York City Police Department press pass issued just after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, along with a now-brittle piece of the rawhide photographer Greg Rec and I used to tie our precious credentials around our necks before venturing out into history.

There’s a credential for the presidential campaign of 1984, when I was a reporter for the Evening Express and Ronald Reagan was on his way to easy reelection over Walter Mondale. Another one from 2016, when Donald Trump came to New Hampshire and, not long after, shocked the world. In between is a press pass for the 2011 inauguration of Gov. Paul LePage – here’s looking at you, Big Guy.

There are several military-issued IDs that got me into and out of Iraq and Afghanistan to witness Maine soldiers in action. Those five trips between 2004 and 2013 – and the friendships that grew out of them – will stay with me forever.

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Oh look – I even have a small stack of Iraqi dinars, each with the visage of Saddam Hussein plastered across the front. Wonder what that stuff’s worth today? And here’s the self-portrait San Pao, a member of the Maine Army National Guard, gave me one day on a combat outpost on the eastern edge of Afghanistan – the silhouette against barbed wire perfectly captures his triumph over post-traumatic stress disorder.

I think back to a Friday afternoon in 1995 when Lou Ureneck, our executive editor at the time, called me down to his office from my perch as sports editor. He pointed to a line in my recent performance evaluation where I’d said I wanted to someday get back to writing. “Are you serious about that?” Lou asked. “Because we need a columnist and we need one now.”

I told him I’d think about it over the weekend. I agonized over the decision for two days – part of me, after all, coveted Ureneck’s job. Finally, late that Sunday evening, Andrea looked me in the eye and said, “If you don’t do this, you’ll never forgive yourself.”

She was so right.

Now, as the finish line comes into view, I appreciate more than ever how lucky I’ve been to sit at this keyboard. I still may weigh in from time to time when the spirit moves me and the editors have a hole that needs filling, but for now my next chapters beckon.

Thank you, Maine, from the bottom of my heart. It’s been a great run.

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