'United by passion'

On a humid September afternoon 22 years ago I knocked on Capt. Frank Tryon’s stateroom door.
“Lieutenant Taylor, here,” I said.
I was there for my annual fitness report debriefing. It went well. Our ship, the USS Charleston, had recently returned from a sevenmonth cruise to the Mediterranean, where we stayed busy with operations related to the recent Gulf War. After an admittedly rocky start to my Navy career, I was figuring things out.
I thanked the skipper for the positive report.
“It makes it even tougher to do this,” I said, handing him a letter.
I was resigning my commission, effective about six months later.
I told Capt. Tryon that I wanted to be an outdoors writer.
He was fairly incredulous. How could I, he wondered, be willing to leave the relative stability, good pay and excitement of the life of a military officer for the uncertainty and almost assuredly financially meager existence of a writer?
The answer was simple.
The Navy was a job, and a good one. But I didn’t love it. I loved the outdoors, and loved writing about it. If I was going to make a go of making that a career, the time to do it was when I was 26, single and debt-free.
The skipper didn’t understand, but you all do.
We’re not doing this to get rich. We’re doing it because we love it.
We’ve all had to pay dues to get here. For me, it was working as a cub reporter at a little weekly newspaper that covered the military in the Norfolk, Va., area.
I wrote about Boy Scout troops visiting helicopter squadrons, about base touch football games and about Tom Clancy signing copies of his latest thriller at the Navy Exchange.
And, because we had a staff of three and lots of pages to fill, I wrote about fishing and hunting as much as possible.
When Bill Cochran retired from The Roanoke Times 15 years ago, I applied even though I had no shot. Somehow I got the job.
The full-time outdoor writer gig opened up a new world to me. The world of OWAA. A world of peers who are just as passionate about this as I am.
Bill sponsored me for membership, and I remember how thrilled I was when I got my OWAA Directory and saw my name listed alongside many of my heroes. At conferences I got to not only see some of those heroes in person, I got to know them.
I started attending conferences regularly in 2005, after I’d agree to serve with Bill as a local co-chair for the 2007 Roanoke conference. Working with the conference local committee that year gave me my first real taste of volunteerism.
The role required a lot of time, but I didn’t mind because working with Bill, his wife Katherine, and conference chair Phil Bloom was fun and inspiring. Phil and I spent hours on the phone and in meetings, discussing not only the conference, but the outdoors communication industry.
He, along with friends and OWAA volunteers such as Tom Stienstra, Glenn Sapir, Bill Monroe and Tom Wharton helped inspire me to run for the board. And it was Phil who called a couple years after that and asked if I’d consider running for third vice president.
I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been a few times over the past few years that I had wished I’d missed that call from Phil.
It’s sometimes been a rocky ride. But, in general, it’s been a great ride.
And it has been the people who have said “yes” when I’ve called, even if they may have wanted to say “no,” who have made it great.
If I thanked everyone personally by name in this farewell column, we’d be here all week. But there are a few folks whom I must name.
My predecessor, the aforementioned Bill Cochran, has become a mentor and a dear friend, and also a decent saltwater fishing guide. During our long drives to Virginia game department meetings Bill has been a sounding board, an inspiration and a voice of reason. He promised to come to Alaska to be there when I became president and he kept his word, as he always does.
OWAA legal counsel Bill Powell has probably developed a permanent crook in his neck from shaking his head at some of the questions I’ve had for him during the past 18 months. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude for keeping me from making too big of fool out of myself.
Katie McKalip, back during her OWAA staff days, was a great editor when she was handling my Newspaper Section columns. As OWAA secretary she has done a super job making sure we have a better record of association business than just my memory.
Treasurer Jack Ballard, likewise, has done a great job of handling our fragile budget.
Vice presidents Bill Graham and Mark Freeman made smooth work of the Fairbanks and Lake Placid conference planning. They, with new executive director Tom Sadler minding the helm, will keep this ship sailing straight.
The board over the past few years has been amazing. It takes a special person to donate the kind of time required to be a productive board member. OWAA’s membership needs to know that everyone on the current board is in it for the right reasons.
Current OWAA Communications and Publications Director Ashley Schroeder deserves a big thanks for her patience with my deadline-pushing, and Membership and Conference Services Coordinator Jessica Pollett earns one for her patience with me in general. (Which reminds me, Jessica, I know I need to register for the Lake Placid conference. I’ll try to do it this afternoon.)
Finally, a big thanks to all the members and supporters, whose dedicated membership keeps us moving forward.
You are OWAA.
We are OWAA.
United by passion. ◊
— OWAA President Mark Taylor, mtaylor@owaa.org

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