Entire staff reminisces on what it's like to work with the sweetest, kindest person in the world

Friday is considered the end of the work week. But this particular Friday marks the end of 30 years’ worth of work weeks for Patricia Lewis Sharpf.

Sharpf, who worked her way through the ranks of The Progress-Index newsroom to become the newspaper’s top editor, is retiring, leaving behind a lifetime’s load of stories, columns, pages … and some wonderful memories.

“It really is a lot to think about over a long period of time,” she said. “I think about where we are in newsgathering today compared to where we were when I started. In those days, we used old word processors and had to send marked-up dummy sheets to the back shop for them to lay out the pages. Now, it’s click-click-click and the news is out there.”

The internet was in its infancy when Sharpf started at the newspaper. She said she can still remember how everyone was just so fascinated when the newspaper was able to start transmitting photos electronically rather than paste-up.

“It seems almost like a lifetime ago, yet it also seems like I just started here,” she added.

Sharpf, who still lives in her native Dinwiddie County, has a one-word answer for what she plans to do once she no longer will be punching a time clock: “Rest.” Given the fact that she has two young grandchildren and plans to care for them the first week of retirement while her son works, that answer might have to be put off at least a short while.

“But I’m not complaining,” said the person known as “MeMaw” to the little girls.

Sharpf came to The P-I in 1990 as a staff writer in the features department. But she did more than writing, because in those days, the newsroom staff doubled as page designers. Five years after arriving on Franklin Street, Sharpf was named the Lifestyles section editor.

In 1999, Sharpf became the city editor, the person in the newsroom who closely worked with staff writers pitching stories, editing content and offering advice.

She spent most of the early years of the 21st century in that position until 2017, when she was promoted to the newsroom’s managing editor. She kept that corner office until Friday.

“It’s going to feel a little weird, I think, not getting in the car and driving to Petersburg, or driving home at night from Petersburg,” she said. “I'm excited about new opportunities, but I know I am going to miss it, especially the people I have worked with over the years and all the people from the community that I have met and gotten to know over the years.”

Along her career path, Sharpf has been honored many times by organizations in and out of the journalism industry.

She has won numerous awards for writing and page design from the Virginia Press Association, and was once a finalist for a national newspaper award. A communications company that previous owned The Progress-Index named her as a corporate-wide “Top Performer” on two different occasions.

In 2000, she received the President’s Youth Service Award for being an “Outstanding mentor to Local Youth.” Sharpf is a former volunteer literacy tutor for the Tri-City Literacy Council and has served as a Crater Community Hospice volunteer and member of the Hospice Board.

In 2018, she reunited with Bill Atkinson, a former P-I staff writer and editor who returned to serve as her top assistant editor. He will fill in as interim editor until a permanent replacement is named.

“Pat called and asked me if I was interested in coming back to work with her,” said Atkinson, who likes to joke that he and Sharpf have known each other “forever.”

“I couldn’t say ‘Yes’ fast enough,” he said. “I came in on the first day back, and we just picked right up where we left off 20 years ago, It was like I was back home.”

Another long-timer who worked with Sharpf is Classified Advertising Manager Alice Coleman. For much of Sharpf’s tenure, Coleman was a newsroom colleague, a lunch buddy and a close friend.

“I have had the pleasure of working with Pat Sharpf for over 25-plus years and feel that she was truly an asset to this paper and community,” Coleman said. "She went above and beyond for the community we served and developed a cherished working relationship with so many businesses and individuals throughout the Tri-Cities. She is truly a genuine and caring person and I am so lucky to know her and I will always value our friendship.”

Digital Editor Leilia Magee said she will always remember the trust Sharpf put in her as a new employee at the newspaper.

“Pat has unequivocally helped shape who I am as an employee, as a writer, and — dare I say — as a journalist,” Magee said. “I came to the P-I out of college with a lackluster writing background and Pat entrusted me with a few features and photo assignments early on, back when my role was just the editorial assistant. Her reassurance that my work was actually solid gave me the confidence to write more and more.”

Sharpf readily admits her leadership style doesn't fit the stereotype of what most people might expect of a newspaper editor. 

"Some may view me as an odd duck, and that's ok with me," Sharpf said. "I'm not a Type A personality. I don't lose my temper and bite people's heads off. I don't carry a big stick. I don't make demands. 

"I make requests, I think things out before speaking. I'm patient and try to stay calm or give that appearance even if I'm not feeling calm internally. I believe in treating people with respect, leading by example, offering encouragement and building people up," she said.  

Former Sports Editor Nicholas Vandeloecht appreciated having Sharpf as the team leader during his time at the P-I.

"Pat wasn't just a great leader to work for, but she's also been an incredibly kind person throughout it all,” he said. “In what can be a tough and stressful industry, Pat was always someone you could count on either for reassurance, or for that understanding that she was right there with you and felt what you felt. I always think of her as smiling all the time, and I continue to see her as a friend after my time at The Progress-Index. With Pat in the newsroom, the workplace really became a family to me."

Publisher Craig Richards remarks on her impact on the area as a newswoman. “Pat is the essence of a true community journalist. She cares about our readers, her team and is committed to making a difference in her community,” said Richards. “I will personally miss Pat’s insight and passion.

“Fortunately for us, she has developed a newsroom team that carries on her legacy of dedication to our community through quality journalism,” he added.

As Sharpf transitions into the next phase of life, what does she think will be the fondest memory of her time at the newspaper?

“Wow. My fondest memory? I don’t think there is any one memory that overshadows the thousands of others,” she said. “This was a special career. It was never an easy path to walk. There were lots of sacrifices. The hours are long, the demands are tough, the news never stops. But it's also been very rewarding. I have met so many wonderful people from this community, and worked with so many talented individuals through the years. I will treasure all my memories. I've learned a lot along the way, made some mistakes, but I have no regrets.

“I'm looking forward to having more time to spend with my family and friends, but leaving is bittersweet."

As for advice to the person who sits in her chair next, Sharpf says this.

“Just do your best, always be kind, be slow to speak when you're frustrated, and take lots of slow deep breaths,” she said. “Then of course, always keep Tylenol nearby.”