I was fortunate in my youthful years. I loved to read, and it eventually guided me into the land of journalism. That world has come full circle since the 1950s as I attended my 53rd high school reunion this past week. I discussed with my classmates the years of my career, and plans for yet another retirement. I have retired from the Banner before, but continue to return for various reasons.
This time it’s a major slowdown. I will probably never sit down and fully retire, but I plan to become “degressively” inactive to some capacity. I’m discussing some new opportunities, but whatever they are will be on a limited basis.
My high school and college studies were not in journalism, but toward the more mundane environment of business.
After college, and a few months when I worked as a retail sales clerk, I came to the realization that I didn’t want to say, “Can I help you?” for the rest of my life.
I trudged up the stairway at Miller’s Department Store on Henley Street in Knoxville where I was employed in the photography sales department, and politely told the personnel director, “I quit.”
It was more of an emotional time than it should have been. It wasn’t the job. It was the fact that my mother also worked at Miller’s, up on the third floor in dishes and home interior items, and was proud that her eldest son had followed her into the profession.
I kept my sudden “resignation” a secret from my family for weeks, got up in the mornings and pretended to leave for work. In reality, I traveled around Maryville and Knoxville looking for another job before I broke the news to my family that I was “unemployed.”
I “fell into” the newspaper business. I noticed an employment ad in the Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times looking for a graphic artist. I was not a graphic artist, but I was handy with pen and pencil. This was before the days of computers, and artwork for newspapers was done by hand.
I was hired as an artist, but this only lasted for a short time. It is amazing what has evolved from that first newspaper job. I was then offered the opportunity to work in the newspaper’s darkroom, developing film, printing photographs and burning zinc plates for the press.
After a few months there was an opening in the newsroom for a beginning (cub) reporter, and I was asked if I was interested. The salary was more, so “of course” I was interested.
Although I didn’t volunteer this information, my typing skills were suspect in becoming a “writer.” I had taken typing in high school, but my “hunt and peck” system did not take me to the proficient level. It was more of a pretentious level.
This deficiency handicapped me for a short while, but I struggled to improve. Besides, most of my assignments were not of the deadline type where speed was all important. I typed police reports, divorces, bankruptcies, marriages, deaths and other vital statistics.
This was the start of my journalism career, and we’ve stuck together for more than 50 years. We’ve been to many places, seen many things, met thousands of interesting people, made wonderful friends and enjoyed many exciting moments. I have been at monumental happenings, had moments of pride, times of frustration, been shown appreciation, had meaningful incidents and been associated with many more tragedies than I would have wished.
As in anyone’s memory, there are moments in my career of which I am especially proud. There are others we’ll just forget about.
My first big newspaper moment was the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. I was home for lunch when a news brief flashed on television. I returned to the office, got the story from the wire service, and redid the top of the front page with a photo of JFK. We were one of the newspapers that had the story on the front page that day, a real coup for a lowly reporter.
There have since been stories with presidents, sports stars, entertainers, as well as famous and infamous “wannabes.” My greatest enjoyment has been human interest stories — the different, unique, the unimaginable and sometimes unbelievable. Small children and animals have always provided me a fun time.
You can sit down with a classroom of pre-kindergarten students and fill a reporter’s notebook to overflowing. Their comments have been the joy of my career, just as they were for Art Linkletter on his TV show “Kids Say the Darndest Things!”
Hopefully, my writing over the years has been beneficial ... to the newspapers where I have worked, and the communities where I have lived.
My philosophy is simple: Keep it simple, understandable, truthful and interesting. Try to tease the reader’s interest with a catchy lead.
I have always felt you need to give people the news they need to know, but not necessarily all that is available. There will always be the readers’ right to know, not necessarily a need to know. This is often true when writing about tragedies.
The industry has been good to me, but it’s time to go. I’m not physically frail yet, but I need a change of pace.
It’s increasingly difficult to get up in the mornings, my joints ache, my teeth are crumbling, it’s hard to tie my shoe strings, my eyesight is somewhere between poor and cruddy, stamina is not high up the chart and my Lucy and Lacy (the puppy and kitty) need more time for play.
I’m really not giving up. I’m only slowing down. I’m sure there are still some adventures ahead of me, so I’m going to take it slow.