From Tragedy Comes Triumph

Today marks the 13th anniversary of a suicide in the valley that led me to begin this column for the Pierce College Roundup like this:

Evelyn Ruth Billings made a lot of people late to work October 12.

Because of her, the two right lanes of the southbound San Diego Freeway were closed for nearly three hours. Rush-hour traffic was backed up to Nordhoff Street, to Winnetka on the southbound Ventura Freeway and to Coldwater Canyon on the northbound. The resultant traffic clog led harried commuters to inundate the surrounding canyon roads and Sepulveda Boulevard, jamming those streets for several hours.

All because she died that morning.

The column, published in the October 20 issue of the campus paper, went on to take first place Column Writing category of the 1994 Journalism Association of Community College’s statewide competition. Only after receiving the award did I learn legendary L.A. Times columnist Jack Smith was the judge and I immediately wrote him a letter telling him I’d been reading him since I could remember and I wasn’t sure which I was more honored by, winning or being judged worthy by him. A shortwhile later I received a handwritten note back thanking me for my kind words and for making the selection process easy for him by writing an exceptional column that readily stood far above the other entries.

It is my proudest moment as a journalism student and a journalist, but I keep my pride tempered never forgetting that my personal success resulted from another person’s pain. And every October 12th since, I’ve always made sure to say a little prayer for Evelyn and hope she rests in peace.