A gray day, Feb. 15, not a pretty day to rally against the impending war in Iraq, but I found them sitting together nonetheless under the spreading magnolia tree on the grounds of the state capitol in Raleigh. Marty and Adam were half-listening to the speakers rasping through the microphone, but I figure they took a moment or two out to trade opinions about the state of The Independent, too.

I knew then what I wanted to write about for The Independent‘s 20th anniversary issue: How three people–Marty Belin, Adam Abram and Trip Van Noppen–have chaired our board of directors for nearly 20 years, cajoling us, pushing us, prodding us, lifting us up across good times and bad. Especially the bad times, and there were plenty. Times when we weren’t sure we could meet payroll or pay the printer for the next issue or satisfy the tax man.

As the paper’s publisher for its first 16 years, I called on Marty or Adam or Trip every week for wise counsel about working with human beings or ideas for raising capital, for brainstorming about circulation plans or commission structures or advertising rates. They didn’t do it for the money; none of them has ever made a cent on The Independent. No, they always took my calls or spent those endless hours with me poring over coffee-stained financial statements because they believe in The Independent‘s mission–in the power of good journalism to help build a just community here in the cities of the Triangle.

Marty came first, willing to dream up this newspaper from scratch with a few other hopeless idealists, taking on in 1983 the thankless task of chairing a board of directors of a fledgling newspaper company that had never published a single issue. Today Marty is a senior loan officer with Durham’s Self-Help Credit Union and the Self-Help Ventures Fund in Durham, and her specialty is making loans available to Hispanic families and businesses. In the early 1980s, though, she worked at Noah’s food co-op in Raleigh and studied for her M.B.A. at Carolina, and I’d meet her in Chapel Hill in the grassy quad, and the two of us would think of one more way to trim our budget, one more person who might buy some of our not-so-valuable shares or maybe give us a loan to get us through the summer.

Trip came next, chairing our board of directors for 10 years, the still center, the eye of our company’s endless storm, seeing us through the expansion of the paper from Durham and Chapel Hill into Raleigh and through our growth from a scrawny twice-monthly publication into a genuine alternative newsweekly. Trip, now director of the North Carolina office of the Southern Environmental Law Center in Chapel Hill, spent those years in private law practice traveling the state to represent workers injured or ill from their workplace conditions.

Adam has served on our board for a dozen years, and he took on the chair’s role when Trip left it. Adam is not the calm center. He’s the force of the wind, pushing us to think bigger and reach higher and want more. It was Adam who helped us build the strategy to compete head-to-head with the chain-owned Spectator and win, who guided us through the difficult negotiations to purchase the Spectator in the fall of 2002. Adam has bought and sold a score of buildings and businesses during his long tenure on our board, and now he is president of the James River Group, an insurance holding company, and of Omega Management, which advises management teams about raising capital for private companies. He runs both from his office in Chapel Hill.

Without these three people, The Independent would not have survived. Without their devoted friendship, I would have quit this work long ago. Without Marty–reading her endless collection of mysteries, devoting her time to El Centro Hispano, raising Marco, meditating, walking up the block to join our family for dinner or a cup of tea. Without Trip–hiking his favorite trails in the mountains out beyond Morganton, raising Eli and Aden, giving over his back porch to a hundred Independent meetings, getting together with me anytime I needed it just like a brother for the longest talks about the toughest problems. Without Adam–wheeling and dealing on his cell phone, raising Ben and Josh, writing his op-eds against Bush’s unilateral war or Citibank’s predatory lending, leading the capital campaign at Judea Reform Congregation, grabbing lunch with me once a month for a decade to jab, probe, question and then root for The Independent.

The Independent has benefited from the service of many other board members as well. Elizabeth Woodman, particularly, has served on our three-person executive committee for the past five years. Jenny Warburg, Jean Riesman, Wells Eddleman, Jane Sharp, Nancy Milio, Martin Eakes, Karen Jessee, Joe Pfister, Katherine Fulton and Grace Nordhoff have all played key roles on the board at some point during the past 20 years.

Today, while still serving as the company president, I’m also the chair of The Independent‘s board of directors. But I’m happy to report that Adam Abram remains on the executive committee of the board, Marty Belin has signed up for another board term and Trip Van Noppen still answers my phone calls. EndBlock