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Mark Kennedy / Staff file photo

The internet has invented a new celebration: work anniversaries.

I noticed a couple of weeks ago that I was getting congratulatory notes from some of my contacts on LinkedIn, the professional networking site, because it was the anniversary of my sign-on day at the Times Free Press.

It was like those birthday greetings you get on Facebook, but about work. My first thought was that it was odd, maybe even a little silly. I'm extremely grateful for my job, but I wouldn't equate my "work anniversary" with my actual birthday.

Still, it did cause me to reflect on my soon-to-be 40 years as a journalist in Chattanooga. Forty years is a long time to work at the same job, in the same city for essentially the same company. (The Chattanooga Times, my original employer, was sold to WEHCO Media in 1999 and the Times and Free Press were merged, but my work in Chattanooga newsrooms has been uninterrupted since the early 1980s.)

I can't imagine that either of my two sons will work in the same industry, much less the same company, for nearly the entirety of their work lives. The modern world doesn't operate that way. In fact, we baby boomers may be the last generation to start and finish our work lives in the same spot.

I consider my actual work anniversary to be June 1982, 40 years ago this summer, when I arrived at the then Chattanooga Times as a 24-year-old education reporter. (Before that I was sports editor at the Cleveland Daily Banner.) Chattanooga newsrooms were so flush in those old two-newspaper days that there were four local reporters covering schools, two at the Times and two at the News-Free Press.

President Ronald Reagan wasn't even halfway into his first term, and Chattanooga, once called the Dynamo of Dixie, was caught in the post-industrial doldrums. You could count the good restaurants on one hand, and most people got the heck out of downtown after dark. The cool, 21st-century city we know today would have been hard to imagine.

I remember taking out-of-town visitors to Miller Park to showcase the city. No offense, but Miller Park — even in renovated form — is on nobody's list of "must see" Chattanooga attractions these days.

I read a travel story about Chattanooga in Garden & Gun magazine a couple of weeks ago and realized that I didn't even recognize some of the great restaurants it touted.

Anyway, the point is the city changed a lot in the last 40 years, and so did I. During those years, I've worn lots of hats: reporter, feature writer, team leader, coordinating editor, Sunday editor, features editor, opinion editor and columnist. Even though some of those roles were managerial, I never stopped writing except for a brief timeout at the point of the merger.

My mother, who died in 2006, was a lifelong bank teller. In her later years she suffered from dementia. But sometimes she would pretend to count money, her fingers filled with muscle memory that transcended cognition.

Sometimes I wonder if my fingers will continue to move, as if typing, after my mind disengages from the work.

Some may say that this has already come to pass.

Email Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com.

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