One of the last times I had any contact with Chris Shofner – I thought it was on Facebook messenger, but I can’t find it there – he asked when we were going to have lunch again. I don’t know why we didn’t set something up then and there; it was probably my fault.
We’d had lunch just a few months before. I happened to have the day off from work, but when I went out to my car to go and meet Chris, it wouldn’t turn over. I called Chris, and he good-naturedly came over, gave me a jump start, and followed me to AutoZone, where I bought a new battery I hadn’t planned on buying. Chris ended up buying my lunch.
In 1985, when I returned to Bedford County, tail between my legs, after my first career plan hadn’t quite worked out, I decided to go and put in an application at the hometown newspaper. I’d taken some newspaper classes as part of my mass communications major, and I’d spent a lot of time at the campus paper my senior year – mostly because I had a crush on a woman who worked there. But I hadn’t taken as many newspaper courses as I might have if I’d known I was going to spend 30 years-and-counting in the business.
Anyway, when I got to the T-G, the first person I talked to was Chris. He had not officially been named editor yet – that would come a few weeks later – but had been doing the job. He told me how much he liked my resume and how much he needed a reporter. He then took me in to see Mr. Franklin Yates, the publisher who’d merged the Times and the Gazette in 1948. Mr. Yates, who had a gruff exterior but a big heart, originally told me he ha nothing open – which I knew, from my conversation with Chris, was not the case. I figured I’d offended him somehow and gave up on working at the Times-Gazette. But it was just Mr. Yates being Mr. Yates.
After I’d left, Mr. Yates called Marvin Whitaker – who’d been my high school principal and who was, at that time, layleader of one of the churches at which my father was preaching. I’m sure Mr. Whitaker told Mr. Yates that I’d hung the moon and several of the stars. In any case, Mr. Yates called me in a day or two later and offered me the job.
I had a great relationship with Chris during the time he was my editor. He was kind, considerate, empathetic. We always felt like friends, not just co-workers, and he always made me feel like he appreciated what I did.
I loved that Chris was a musician on the side. When I first met him, he was in a band called Jet Set. They often introduced themselves as “Maxell recording artists Jet Set,” Maxell not being a record label but rather a brand of blank recording tape. Later, he and his friend Scott Pallot would put a lot of love and care into a children’s album.
Chris went on to work in marketing for a company in Memphis, but then – after a health scare – came back here to Middle Tennessee, where he was the press spokesman for the City of Murfreesboro for a number of years. More recent health concerns forced him to give that up, too.
Now that he’s gone, of course, I wish not only that I’d had lunch with him the last time we talked, but a lot more times. He was right here in town, and I didn’t take the time.
Chris was 61. He died less than a week after his mother, Betty, and I can’t imagine what that must be like for the family.
I hate that I’m going to miss visitation and the funeral. I know Chris will understand that I’ll be in ministry up on the Cumberland Plateau; I leave tomorrow morning for a week at Mountain T.O.P. But I’m sorry I won’t get to speak to his wife, attorney Ginger Shofner, or to his daughter Willa Kate. Please join me in keeping them in your prayers.
(NOTE: In the old days when news stories were typed on paper, ‘’-30-“ was typographer’s code for the end of a story.)