TODAY is my last day as editor of The Northern Echo and I leave with a kaleidoscope of memories. Many of them are happy, some of them sad, but they come together as an unforgettable experience and an enormous privilege.

I could easily fill a book with the trials, tribulations, tirades, triumphs and tears of the past 17 years – and I will one day – but this final “From The Editor’s Chair” column only has space for a brief selection.

I’ll certainly remember the funnies such as the tale which emerged during a family day out at Thorp Perrow Aboretum, near Bedale, in North Yorkshire. While my wife and I relaxed in the sun, our children went off to watch a falconry display and I half-listened as a commentary was broadcast on a loudspeaker. Various birds of prey were introduced to the spectators and then the female announcer began to explain why Harry the hawk wouldn’t be appearing. “We’ve had to ban him from displays because he got into the habit of landing on people’s heads and we had to coax him off with a bit of chicken,” she explained, before adding. “It was a nightmare at Shildon Gala because he landed on a man’s head and, when he flew off, he took his wig with him.”

That story started life in The Northern Echo and travelled the world, as did the one about my unique achievement at Blackwell Golf Course in Darlington during the annual St Teresa’s Hospice Golf Tournament. I hit my shot on the Par 4 first, sliced it over some trees and into the hole on the 18th. It was a round in one – 68 under par!

One of my fondest memories is being asked by Darlington Operatic Society to play the role of my illustrious predecessor, William Stead, in Titanic The Musical at Darlington Civic Theatre in 2012. Did The Northern Echo review state that my acting was more wooden than the lifeboats? Yes, it did. And did I really ride a horse through town, in my Stead costume and grey beard, to promote the show? I’m afraid so.

There have been other ill-fated journeys, like the time The Northern Echo embarked on a campaign to support the “Yes” campaign in the 2004 referendum to decide whether the North-East should have an elected regional assembly.

Swayed by a large, white inflatable elephant, the North-East voted “No” by a huge majority. I was interviewed on live TV outside Durham Cathedral by the BBC’s Danny Savage, who began not with a question but a blunt statement: “Peter Barron, editor of The Northern Echo, you urged your readers to vote Yes to regional government and they voted No in overwhelming numbers – you clearly don’t know your readers!”

I confess to being momentarily in two minds about whether to answer him or punch him but I chose career-preservation.

I’ll remember being the editor of the Prime Minister’s local paper during the Blair years and having private meetings with him at Number Ten. I’ll cherish meeting The Queen at Buckingham Palace but cringe at the memory of dropping a beetroot and puree pea canape on her plush, pink carpet.

On a more serious note, how could I forget the George Reynolds’ era at Darlington Football Club when the former safe-cracker turned multi-millionaire became Quakers’ chairman and built a £20m football stadium on the edge of town? Before too long, the inevitable happened, it all turned sour and George fell out with me and the Echo. He challenged us to fist fights in the market place, erected a giant billboard demanding that I should be sacked, and I once had to hide under manager David Hodgson’s desk when the angry chairman arrived unexpectedly. Finally, he started coming round my house, shouting abuse through the letter-box, and leaving written threats. The police chose not to take any action “because you’re a journalist and it comes with the territory”. My wife and children weren’t journalists though, were they? Months later, the chairman was jailed for tax evasion. It all seems far too surreal now but, yes, it all really happened.

More importantly, I’ll remember my good fortune in working with a passionate, brilliant team of journalists and for the campaigns we fought together.

I’ll remember how The Northern Echo reacted to Princess Diana’s death by launching an appeal which was instrumental in building the Butterwick Children’s Hospice.

I’ll remember a four-year-old girl called Hannah Maxwell-Jones, from Middlesbrough, being brought in to see me. She’d been born with a small growth that went on to cover half of her face and her parents needed to raise £40,000 to take her to America to be treated by a pioneering surgeon. The money was raised in days and, in the years ahead, Hannah’s life was transformed.

I’ll remember giving a voice to the campaigners who fought for the General Medical Council to act over disgraced gynaecologist Richard Neale, who was somehow given a job at the Friarage Hospital In Northallerton despite having been struck off over his fatal incompetence in Canada. He was finally struck off in this country after being found guilty of botching operations, lying to patients and altering medical records.

I’ll remember how The Northern Echo was publicly acknowledged as a key partner in the campaign to bring the Hitachi train-building factory to County Durham.

And, more than anything, I’ll remember the campaign to cut heart bypass waiting times following the death at 38 of my friend and colleague Ian Weir, pictured, who had waited eight months for an “urgent” heart bypass operation. I was there that tragic day as Ian was being declared dead in front of his wife and two sons, and the heartbreaking scene in that loving family home in Darlington will stay with me for ever. The Ian Weir campaign resulted in heart bypass waiting times in Britain being cut from an average of 12 months to three months.

Local newspapers have a vital role to play in society and my parting wish is that they are given the time and support for quality, campaigning journalism that makes a difference to people’s lives.

The future of local journalism cannot just be built on “click-bait” – stories which attract the biggest number of hits online. There will be those who call me a dinosaur but if I see another “stomach-churning compilation of the best spot-squeezing videos” on a ‘news’ website, I may well take a hammer to my computer. Exploding spots may get lots of hits, and that may attract digital advertising revenue, but it isn’t news.

Thank you so much for your support over the past 17 years and I look forward to being part of The Northern Echo for years to come – albeit as the paper’s former editor.