Star news editor retires
Phyllis Britt, who has helped keep local residents turning pages over the past couple of decades, is turning a page in her own life this week.
She has been with The Star since 1986, serving since 1999 as the editor and is now looking forward to retirement - especially the chance to devote more time to being a grandmother.
She and her husband, Savannah River Site chemical engineer Tom Britt, welcomed their third grandchild, Pearce Britt Bartges, on Monday.
Tracing the route that led her to North Augusta, Britt recalled that The Star, in the 1980s, had a part-time reporter assigned to cover events in Aiken. When that job came open, Britt was recommended for it in connection with her experience reporting for The Rambler, a now-defunct, Aiken-based newspaper.
Sam and Mim Woodring, who owned and operated The Star from 1954 until 1998, accepted the advice.
"I think the reason Sam was agreeable was because if I lived in Aiken and was mostly covering meetings that happened in Aiken, he wouldn't have to pay mileage," Britt recalled.
"I owned a computer before The Star did," she added. "I had a Commodore 64. Sam and Mim were still typing on IBM Selectrics."
Britt became the news editor in early 1999, en route to working with such reporters as Melissa Loose, Ellen Gladden and Suzanne Stone.
Highlights have included "getting to know the people in the community and learning what's important to the community and therefore, in many ways, what's important to me about North Augusta," she said.
The first 10 years of Britt's time at The Star coincided with teaching at Mead Hall, a private school in Aiken. Her instruction focused on
computers, Latin and religion.
Back in North Augusta, Britt's roles have included support, from the beginning, for North Augusta 2000, the local booster organization that
began in 1999 with a 65-member committee.
"I was on a subcommittee with Shirley Holgate and learned a lot about North Augusta, because she was focused on the history," she said.
Challenges at The Star have included the clock and calendar. "There's not enough time to do everything as well as I would like to do it, with all that's required in a small, weekly newspaper," she said.
Britt's background includes communities of various sizes. She was born in Smithfield, N.C.
"Unfortunately, they had a billboard outside the city gates: 'Smithfield, North Carolina, Home of the Ku Klux Klan. Love it or leave it.' They tore it down about 1973, thank God," she said.
Most of her childhood was spent in Portsmouth, Va., and she attended Westhampton College - "the women's part of the University of Richmond," as she explained it.
Her degree was in religion with a minor in math and Latin, and she followed that up with graduate studies at Wake Forest University, where she met her future husband and got a degree in religion. She later learned that she and her husband had been childhood neighbors but would not meet until adulthood.
Among Britt's neighbors from those adult years has been Brenda Baratto, known to some through her roles with the Heritage Council of North Augusta.
"She's always been fair, I think, in reporting the comings and goings of all the aspects of North Augusta life, whether it's the government aspects or the community, or whether it's schools or things like that," said Baratto.
Baratto also described Britt as "certainly 'out there' and being a part of the events, whatever they may be.
"I've always enjoyed a good working relationship with her, because she's been fair for me and the work that we do here, and easy to work with, and that's not always easy to find in the press. I'll miss her," she said.
"We've enjoyed working together," said Scott Sterling, North Augusta's director of planning and economic development, who has helped Britt in recent months produce a series of articles focusing on the history and features of North Augusta subdivisions.
"We learned some things about subdivisions we didn't know about," he added.