Good newspaper memories

A photo of the newsroom of The Telegraph in 1986. (Courtesy of The Telegraph)

Facebook brought back pleasant memories of the past on this Saturday morning.

One was a wedding anniversary note from Martha Weeks Boswell, a great lady honoring her 45 years together with the husband she loves.  Martha Weeks is an old friend and former classmate from our high school days.

We were good friends and did a play together at Showtimers (along with Adrian Cronauer of Good Morning Vietnam fame) when she was at what was then Radford College and I worked at The Roanoke Times and was Miss Floyd in the Miss Virginia Pageant.  She helped me recover from a nasty auto accident. We kept in touch as I left for Illinois and she and her new husband also ended up in the midwest.

We’re both back in the area now with the loves of our lives.  They celebrate their anniversary today while Amy and I will honor our 40 years of marriage later this year.

The other memory comes from a photograph of the staff of The Telegraph in Alton, IL, my home for 12 years (1969-81).  The photo, taken in 1986, shows folks I knew and worked with, which always brings back memories.

After more than half a century in and around newspapers, The Telegraph remains my longest gig as a reporter/photographer and columnist for a print publication.

John Focht, managing editor of The Telegraph (known then as The Alton Evening Telegraph) invited me out to Alton for a job interview in 1969 after I responded to an ad in Editor & Publisher magazine.

I flew out from Roanoke to St. Louis (which took a connection that required flying Piedmont from Roanoke to Cleveland and TWA to St. Louis) with a folder of clips and photos from four years at The Times.  We talked for nearly two hours while he looked through the clips and asked the standard questions before he surprised me by offered a reporting job for $160 a week, which was $55 more than the Times paid then.

Two weeks later, I left Roanoke in our 1969 Ford Torino (a fastback with a 390-cubic-inch V8 and four on the floor) and drove a route from Roanoke to Alton on a route that took me up U.S. 460 to the West Virginia Parkway, then to Charleston, WVa, where I picked up Interstate 64, which was mostly complete until Louisville, KY, but then took U.S. 150 up through some interesting Indiana towns (including French Lick) before hooking up with U.S. 50 for a drive through Illinois into St. Louis and then up U.S. 67 to Alton.

I arrived in Alton at age 21 as a headstrong, egotistical problem for the paper and others. I had begun my career at daily newspapers at 17 at the Times, won a couple of awards from The Virginia Press Association and thought I was a hell of a lot better than I was.

The heading that appeared on my column in The Alton Telegraph during the 1970s and early 80s.

Two families owned The Telegraph during my dozen years there:  The Cousleys (51 percent) and the McAdams (49).  When I wrote a column making fun of the sales tactics of auto dealers, they canceled their advertising for a time and the minority owners tried to fire me but Steve Cousley, the editor, said “no.”

I wrote a series about the growth of illegal drugs and the Madison County States’ Attorney brought me before a grand jury, demanding to know the name of the major pusher who supplied heroin to users in the county, threatening jail if I refused.  I refused and he did nothing.

I worked hard and partied even harder. I drank, a lot, and raised a lot of hell.  Steve Cousley had good reasons to fire me several times but always had my back, even when the minority owners demanded that I go

When longtime city editor Elmer Broz died, Steve made me acting city editor.  As with many things in those days, it went to my head and I was a lousy, autocratic manager. He brought in D.G. Schumacher as a new Executive Editor and I became his assistant.

I covered the Mississippi River Festival at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville for during its 10 years, covered the university during its turbulent times, developed a “Weekend Magazine” for the paper, reviewed movies and met a young actress named Amy Davis, who served as the “resident pro” on Summer at the fundraising play for Alton Little Theater.

The theater planned an old-time melodrama and Amy, the resident heroine on the Goldenrod Showboat in St. Louis, was the heroine  Director Birdine Groshong asked me to be the villain. I did and Amy and came away from the show at a couple, probably the only time in the history of melodramas where the villain got the heroine.

Two years after that, we married — a second trip to the altar for both of us — and few people who knew us expected the marriage to last more than a year.  Two more years later, we remained married and I accepted an offer from Congressman Paul Findley, who represented Alton then, to join his staff in Washington as press secretary.

I originally turned the offer down, even after a trip to Washington to visit Findley’s office.  I l love working at The Telegraph.  I finally took the job, saying I would spend no more than two years there — to learn a little about how Washington worked — before returning to newspapers to put what I learned to work.

Two years turned into 11 years working for three different Congressman in positions ranging from press secretary to special assistant to the ranking member of the House Science & Technology Committee to chief of staff and then vice president of the political programs divisions of the National Association of Realtors, the country’s largest trade association and the one with the largest political action committee.

I traveled the world on Congressional business, worked on campaigns around the county for political committees, assisted in investigation of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.

Heady times but I missed the time at The Telegraph and longed to return to the profession I love.  In 1994, I walked away from that kind of life, started a national political news website and began freelancing for newspapers, magazines and wire services.

Once again, I was traveling the world, this time in search of news.

Steve Cousley asked me to write about times in Washington at one point and I received a lot of messages and thoughts from folks in Alton after the article appeared in The Telegraph.  I wrote the story on my laptop over the Pacific, returning from Hong Kong.

In 2004, after too many days on the road and too many close calls, Amy and I left Washington after 23 years, the longest time either of us had ever lived in one place.

We moved to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia, where I went to high school.  It was a return to one of my childhood homes and a respite for what we both wanted and needed at the time.  My mother needed assistance as her health failed.

Yet, at 71, I am back working as a newspaperman as a contract reporter and photographer for The Floyd Press, the weekly where I began my career as a reporter in 1962 while still in high school.  The Press is now owned by BH Media, which also owns The Roanoke Times, and some of my articles written for the Press end up in that paper as well.

Walt Sharp and I remained friends and kept in touch as he served as editor at The Telegraph before moving on the public relations work and ended up in San Antonio.  When he died, his wife sent a package that included a photo from The Telegraph days that brought back memories.

“Walt wanted you to have this,” Bonnie said. It hangs on my studio wall.

The photo taken in the Telegraph newsroom in 1986, published on Facebook Saturday, like the gift from late friend Walt, brings back mostly pleasant memories.  The 12 years at The Telegraph taught me a lot.  I was a pain in the ass for a lot of folks there but we still have, and cherish, our friends from that special time and special place.

Thanks to a special lady and some friends a special place and time in Illinois to bring back pleasant memories on a Saturday morning here in the Blue Ridge.

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