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You're reading this column because of a traffic stop I made as a cop in 1985.

One evening I pulled over a woman for speeding.

Today, Pat Conover and I can't agree whether I wrote her a ticket or cut her a break that night. All that really matters is that she set off my radar AND happened to be the editor of the local newspaper.

A year later I asked Pat to look at something I'd written that wasn't a ticket. Apparently I got most of the words spelled correctly, because my first newspaper column appeared in the Springville Herald the following week (Sept. 3, 1986).

I wrote that column (for free and glad to do it) under the pen name Mark Conroy for two years, during which I was still a cop. It remains one of the most transformative and educational experiences of my life — all because Pat wasn't paying attention to the speed limit.

Pat kept my identity a secret even from her husband Martin, who was the paper's publisher. Exactly how much of a secret the writer's identity remained is debatable. It was a lot of smart-ass to hide in such a small town.

On Monday, 26 years to the date, Pat and I sat down over lunch and marveled at the irony of life. And there was a lot of that at the table.

Note: She's the one who owned a newspaper but I'm the one who ended up looking like a newsroom derelict.

Most of our reminiscing was enjoyable — things I had written that made her cry and the stuff that made other people's heads explode. The time a city councilman had beat his head on the desk in frustration. Damn, that was fun.

But also during the time between then and now, my wife barely survived cancer, Pat's husband Martin died and the Herald was sold and eventually shut down.

In one of the greater ironies, I had came to learn that my great-grandfather's brother actually owned the paper in the 1890s, long before the Conovers.

I ended up as a columnist for a newspaper I didn't even know my ancestors had owned. Hell, I was surprised to find out that I had ancestors who could even spell.

We're all products of the nudges we get from other people. No one is a self-made man or woman. Anyone who thinks they got somewhere in life entirely on their own is delusional.

You never see those nudges of encouragement coming. They're only obvious in retrospect, and sometimes not even then.

This sort of thing happens to everyone. Someone nudged you in a direction that took you to a place you never expected to go: art school, politics, crab fishing, prison, corporate raiding, a shack on a beach in Costa Rica, etc.

Maybe a friend talked you into joining the military, or a professor encouraged you to look into medical school, or a friend dragged you on a blind date.

If you ended up someplace you like, chances are it didn't happen entirely by magic. Someone nudged you in that direction. Take a minute to thank them for the help.

I came away from lunch grateful all over again for Pat's seeing something in me 26 years ago that landed me where I belong. I only hope she's forgiven herself.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or

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