I couldn't have hired a playwright to script it any better. Our 2014 SWA workshop was everything I hoped it could have been and a whole lot more. We filled up the seats, mostly with new attendees. We dazzled everyone with brilliant instructors, and most of the newbies were saying they couldn't wait to come back next year. We have some younger people accepting positions of responsibility on the Board of Directors. I believe SWA's future is very secure.
That wasn't the case not so long ago. While we had a cash reserve that could carry us forward for a couple of years no matter how great the failures, we were in a downturn. Our membership was down. Our Board of Directors was dwindling, and while we were almost begging for more bodies, our requests, for the most part, went unanswered. Workshop attendance was barely bringing in break-even revenue, if that. A couple of times we pondered if we might have reached the end of the line.
Now with a positive cash flow from our most recent workshop, an energized "fan base" of new attendees who will be back, hopefully with their friends, and some younger blood sitting in the Board of Directors' seats, the end of the line has been pushed well into the future.
All this happened as Kay Eaton and I served our last tenures on the Board. Kay was one of those who answered the call when we were in dire need of people a few years ago. She helped hold SWA together with the important registrar duties. Relocation to Florida has dictated that she step down from her duties, but we still expect her to show up each June at St. Simons.
As to that other guy who's stepping aside, I'll still show my face at St. Simons as well. The ThomasMax "You Are Published" Contest -- which received the highest number of entries and best competition we've ever had in 2014 -- will continue so there's still a book deal to be had. I've made a lot of comments about my retirement, and all of them have been honestly from the heart. There DOES come a time when everyone needs to step aside and let others bring something new to the show. George Washington DID indeed say eight years was enough. But mostly it's been health issues, specifically pain management, that sparked my decision. I've tried to keep that under the rug (and think I've been pretty successful at it), and now you've just read all I'm going to say about it here.
But I do have a little more to say before I run into the sunset. I am quite proud of the service I've given to SWA. I've received several post-workshop notes and thank-you cards. One said, "Someone asked me the other day what I do. I said, 'I am a writer.' And that's all because of my years at SWA that I could say that." While there were personal accolades in that note, the thing that touched me is that I know I made a difference. And that's why I signed up for the volunteer job in the first place.
My last night as SWA President (let's pretend the meeting the next morning didn't happen) was amazing. My good friend Darrell Huckaby -- I met Huck as a result of SWA -- asked if he could come and entertain at our Awards Ceremony. Anyone in his right mind would say yes, and luckily I was in my right mind the day he asked. And I got this inspired idea to buy torches to pass to the new board members (at least those of which I was aware at the time) as a fitting ritual. Then I was blown away with the going-away gift the board gave me . . . a photo of the Braves' locker room (it's no secret I'm a rabid Braves fan) with my name awarded one of the lockers there. No. 8 -- for eight years of service, four as President and four as VP. I felt truly honored at that moment. I've seen former SWA Presidents with many more years than me retire with a simple "thank-you" certificate or plaque . . . or less.
I haven't yet chosen the spot in my house where it will hang, but it will certainly be a spot of honor. Every time I look at it, I am humbled by the notion that I was held in such esteem by my peers. I know it wasn't cheap, and you really shouldn't have . . . but I'm thrilled that you did. Thank you from every fiber of my being.
And thank you, SWA, for giving me the chance to make a difference. I'll remember THAT every time I look at that picture, too.
~~ Lee Clevenger
Lee is 2-time President of SWA, an author and co-founder of ThomasMax Publishing in Atlanta, GA.