Pine Bluff Commercial publisher Teresa “Tee” Hicks discussed helping people in need Tuesday and not judging based on appearances. In addition to serving as the Commercial’s publisher, Hicks serves as GateHouse Media’s senior group publisher for Southeast Arkansas, which includes publications such as the Stuttgart Daily Leader, the Helena Daily World, the White Hall Journal, the Hot Springs Village Voice and the Newport Independent, among others.

As the guest speaker of the Pine Bluff Rotary Club, Hicks began her talk by citing the maxim of not judging a book by its cover and applying this idea to people. Hicks shared her “defining moment of truth,” which occurred in a Dallas grocery store in 2002. She said she needed to buy food to host her book club and was wearing casual clothes to the store.

Hicks said she brought her groceries to the check-out counter, but when the clerk scanned her items, she realized she had forgotten her wallet at home.

“Mortified, I was feeling a little embarrassed and a little shameful, and the cashier did not help one bit,” Hicks said. “She made me feel inept. And I still recall how rude she was when she said, ‘We’ve got another one with one of those stories.’”

Hicks said she asked the cashier to place her groceries to the side so that she could return to her home, grab her wallet, and then return to the store to pay her bill. Hicks said the cashier called the manager, who also made rude comments about her forgetting her wallet.

“Immediately, I became like they were: judgmental,” Hicks said.

Hicks said that another shopper told her that the district manager happened to be inside the store. Hicks said the district manager moved quickly past a line of impatient customers and asked the manager and cashier what seemed to be the problem, with an emphasis on the word “seemed.”

“[The district manager] turned, and it was as though God sent an angel to stand by my side,” Hicks said. “His face was familiar.”

Hicks said she recognized the district manager as John, whom she had hired at the Dallas Morning News for a sales position when he had fallen on hard times. He immediately recognized her, greeted her by name, and asked if she was “the one causing all this commotion.”

“Can you imagine what the cashier and the manager felt? And so did I,” Hicks said. “I was just as embarrassed as they were. It was in that moment that I remembered my mother’s words. Character is who you are in your darkest moments.”

Hicks said that John hugged her, told the manager and cashier that she is a good woman “who would never take us for granted. She would not take advantage of us and in fact, she is the one who gave me an advantage. He pointed to the guy sacking the groceries and said, ‘Billy, bag it up.’”

John told the employees to bag her groceries and to carry them to Hicks’ car.

While they were standing in the parking lot, Hicks said that John told her to peel back the scales of her eyes to reconstruct the story and to dig deep into the genesis of why this incident happened. Hicks said she had spoken those words to John during a meeting in her office at the Dallas Morning News. Hicks said she had hired John during his interview on the spot because she sensed he had high moral character.

“Can you imagine if I had mistreated John how that story would have unfolded?” Hicks asked. “Good begets good. And when we do, it always comes back to us. In that moment, I had found inside some tattered pages a jewel of a man - one I had hired when he was down on his luck. I had groomed him and developed him the best I knew how. I had done my best.”

“… The next day I returned to that store with my wallet in hand, determined to pay what I owed,” Hicks said. “The cashier saw me at the customer service stand, the same manager who was there the previous day. The cashier ran to me, tapped me on the shoulder, and said ‘I owe you an apology.’”

Hicks alluded to being a person of high moral character. She said her mother used to tell her that her head was so hard that brilliance did not have a chance to enter.

“My grandmother used to say the person you can never run away from is you, because wherever you are, there you be,” Hicks said.

On the subject of the newspaper industry, Hicks said she wants readers to know that newspapers report factual stories and that she wants Pine Bluff to thrive. She said not every reader will agree with every article in the newspaper, yet that is not a reason to disengage.

“As the senior group publisher of 14 publications across Southeast Arkansas, I want you to know something,” Hicks said. “We are committed to push forward and endure to the end. We desire to serve this community.”