It’s been more than a year since I took up the challenge of exposing hypocrites, frauds, political hucksters and the comfortable lies we Americans love to tell ourselves about our God-given destiny as a champion of the poor and downtrodden. From all these spews, it would be easy to draw the conclusion that I lack the capacity to recognize bright spots of inspiration.

Not true. To dispel this notion, I’d like to dedicate this New Year’s Eve column to an unsung hero who gives being human a good name.

She remembers picking me up when the extreme poverty of graduate school made hitchhiking the only way to get from Palouse to Washington State University. A decade passed and our paths crossed again when she afforded me an opportunity to write a weekly opinion piece in her newspaper circulating throughout rural Whitman County.

I knew right away that throughout her publishing career she was a believer in a truly free press. Her opinion columns were open to anyone without censure or editing. She understood the rewards of providing a public forum which, in her view, was the lifeblood of a healthy democracy.

She also understood the risks. When she printed letters critical of the city’s police department and mayor, there followed an organized effort among the powers that be to cancel both subscriptions and display advertising.

As a principled journalist should, my old friend also recognized that a vital role of newspaper reporting was to hold governments accountable. If an issue of importance arose, her first concern was that her readers be apprised of the facts carefully researched.

She let the actions of public officials speak for themselves and, again, was skewered by the power brokers in the hamlet of Palouse. When a dispute arose over an officer allegedly harassing a Garfield resident, she ran the story on the front page.

Since the “rogue cop” was supported by the mayor over the protests of the police chief, a brouhaha erupted and, simply by telling the story, as it unfolded, the loyalists canceled more subscriptions.

When war drums began beating for an unprovoked invasion of Iraq, the publisher gave me a byline in two of her newspapers, the second the Latah Eagle. With the Patriot Act and Homeland Security flexing their muscles even here in Moscow, my columns took on a harder edge.

This resulted in pressure being brought on my friend by business interests in Moscow who threatened to cut off advertisements if I were permitted to continue writing. Rather than bend knee to such efforts to manipulate editorial policy, she withdrew all political columns from her papers. Not long after that, she got out of the business altogether.

At every step, she chose the hard path of principle which spoke volumes about courage in the face of adversity. Spoke to the character of the woman.

What spoke to me of her heart was her adoption of two young boys. Each had developmental disabilities when she took them in as foster children. She bore up under the difficult undertaking and soon realized from the level of need — of one of the boys especially — that they would require the security of something more than wards of the court.

Under the foster parenting arrangement, my friend received significant financial support with health care, and with general overall costs of supporting two young growing lads.

Putting aside her own best interest, however, she put the children’s welfare ahead of her own and — understanding their need for security far into the future — adopted them both.

No more support checks from the state, no more help with medical bills. From the moment the adoption was finalized, the responsibility fell on her shoulders.

Decades later, her sons have fledged. The more seriously disabled son no longer lives at home and has a chance of life approaching normalcy after my friend is no longer available to help guide his steps.

She lives alone now and chooses a somewhat reclusive lifestyle. For this reason, I leave her unnamed. Those fortunate enough to travel in her circle know who she is. As has always been the case, some will admire her grit. Even her old detractors, I suspect, acknowledge her steadfast courage facing hard times.

At the dawning of a new year, I go forward with a smile on my face and a warm spot in my heart knowing that, in an age with hatred spawned by demagogues, there are still noble spirits among us.

McGehee, a lifelong activist, settled here in 1973 and lives in Palouse with his wife, Katherine. His work life has varied from bartender to university instructor to wrecking yard owner.

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