Home Lifestyle COLUMN: Dreams come true on a smaller scale

COLUMN: Dreams come true on a smaller scale

Since turning 40 last year, I’ve taken the time to reflect on childhood aspirations and where I am in life.

If you had asked me when I was a student at West Craven High School where I thought I’d be in 25 years, an award-winning journalist in Richmond County wouldn’t have been anywhere on my list.

Even as a geography buff, I wasn’t exactly sure where Richmond County was, although I had heard of Hamlet because two of my cousins came down one summer in the ‘90s to help build chicken houses.

Several years earlier, West Craven Middle guidance counselor Beth Capillary had us come up with two career goals. I decided, at the time, that I either wanted to be a stuntman or a puppeteer for the Jim Henson Company.

Privately, I also had aspirations of being a musician, pantomiming to songs in the bathroom mirror or in front of my grandad’s video camera. I had a guitar at the time (which had a broken string) but never really learned to play.

Little did I know that I would (sort of) get to do those things during my college years and later in life.

During high school, I developed an interest in history, comedy, writing, filmmaking and photography. Needless to say, I had an urge for entertainment.

I did some public affairs work while in JROTC and developed several skit and movie ideas with my friends. That’s when, unbeknownst to me, my career started taking shape.

Looking back through the yearbook from my senior year, there were several references to my sense of humor and even one person said, “I will keep watching (Saturday Night Live) for you.”

When I went to sign up for classes at Craven Community College, I ran into my mom’s former public speaking instructor, Kerry Cox, who remembered me from my younger days and he told me how students in his classes were getting involved in the film industry.

I soon became one of those students.

Not long after starting college, I found myself helping to produce the Public Speaking video course. I operated video cameras, did a little directing, and wound up helping to edit the distance education class.

I later was a writer, director and actor for several of my own projects including “Astronomy Today” (an extra-credit comedy skit for my Astronomy class) and “The Reel Dawson’s Creek” (co-directed by Jonathan Herold). I had also written a comedic Christmas play for church, which was an homage to Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.”

Harkening back to one of my middle school goals, I had the opportunity to operate puppets for several projects by local filmmaker Jay Tyson. Tyson worked on “Muppets from Space,” so there’s my seven degrees of separation fom Jim Henson.

As for the stunts, I set my pants on fire before jumping into a pond for my silent short “Bad Morning,” jumped out of a boat into a creek in the aforementioned “The Reel Dawson’s Creek,” and had my cousin hit me with a broom handle during a training montage in the opening scene of “Attack of the Killer Rubber Chickens” — which was the only scene ever shot. 

Somewhere along the line, I took a more serious turn and fell into journalism.

I got my start as the first production manager for the college newsletter, The Campus Communicator, where, in addition to laying it out, I wrote news and feature stories, took photos and even sold ads.

After leaving school in 2005, I co-founded the Independent Register with fellow Communicator comrades Corey Friedman and Eric Voliva. That venture lasted a whole nine issues.


It was while working on the I.R. that I realized that instead of just reading about history, I was actually recording it.

At some point — either before or after the I.R., I can’t remember — Corey and I developed a “secret evil plan” to move somewhere in the state and take over a newspaper.

Our careers took different paths: Corey to various newspapers in the former Freedom Communications chain and the Wilson Times; me to a yearlong stint at a weekly publication, a few months in advertising and six years in television.

But in 2014, the “secret evil plan” came to fruition.

Corey became the editor of the Richmond County Journal and brought me to Rockingham as a reporter and we turned the paper around during our two years of working together before he went back to Wilson as editor there.

Since joining the Richmond Observer in 2018, I have been able to use my skills to produce award-winning photos and videos.

I was practically a hermit for my first 17 months here, only out and about if I was working.

But after taking photos of a local band in 2015, I became involved with the local music scene and have been on stage several times to play guitar or sing with bands and have been known to frequent karaoke and open-mic nights.

Rock Star Achievement: Unlocked.

Recently, I even had the opportunity to try my hand at stand-up during comedy night at Double Vision, hosting for Kevin Alderman — who didn’t get into the business until he was 40.

So, the point of this brief biography is this: Dreams can come true, if only on a smaller scale.

Award-winning journalist William R. Toler is managing editor of the Richmond Observer.

(Note: Two sentences were added to this story. 1:22 a.m. 2-11-22)



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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.