Longtime employee is a living history lesson

Published 1:00 pm Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Special for Daily News

It was by chance that my employment at the Washington Daily News began in February 1952 — yes, 1952!
The newspaper plant was then located in the building now occupied by the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles Agency. The circulation manager, Mrs. Maude Leggett, and my mother were close friends, and we had stopped in to say hello. Mr. Ashley Futrell came from his office and introduced himself as editor and publisher. After a short conversation, and learning that I could type, he asked if I might be interested in a job operating a Teletypesetter. I had no idea what a teletypesetter was, but just out of high school, and needing to work, I was interested in finding out.
Mr. Futrell showed me to the newsroom and introduced me to Tom Spencer, city editor; John Morgan, sports editor; Elsie Spencer, proofreader, and the teletypesetter, with no one to operate it — all in a “cracker-box” size newsroom. (Dave Milligan came on board as a reporter three weeks after me, and the room became even smaller.) Mrs. Mary Bell Toler, society editor, was in an adjoining area.
Mrs. Mildred Paul of Pantego was the business office manager. The advertising department was run by Bobby Keys, manager, and Ruth Wilson (later becoming Mrs. Clyde Roberson).
Mr. Futrell hired me that very day. The following week, Mr. Herbert Brauff and Mrs. Elizabeth Gold Swindell, owners of the Wilson Daily Times, as well as the Washington Daily News, came to Washington and I was off to Wilson with them for four days of training — which proved to be quite an undertaking. Returning home, I was on my own.
The teletypesetter was to eventually replace the linotype. It was like an oversized typewriter with a large reel attached containing a roll of paper tape that, as you typed, fed through a unit that cut holes in the tape — different number of holes in different positions for each letter. The tape then ran through the linotype automatically, setting the type. A gauge on the teletypesetter could be adjusted for the column width needed. Each line of type had to be justified, so learning to read the tape was a must. If lines were not the correct length, it would cause hot lead to squirt between the thin individual metal letter bars on the linotype. If, or when, this happened, Bill Daniels, production foreman, and James Dixon and Al Aan, linotype operators, were not happy!
After mastering the teletypesetter, it was my responsibility to retype every story written by the staff, as well as local news releases. Being a community-oriented newspaper, we had correspondents county-wide submitting news of the comings and goings of residents in their area. Needless to say, I was greatly relieved when another teletypesetter was purchased in 1953 and Joyce Tuten joined us. (She later became Dave’s wife.)
The Daily News at that time was an afternoon newspaper, publishing Monday through Saturday, on a six-page press, run by Taylor Wallace and Dan Williams. But, under Mr. Futrell’s leadership, the newspaper began to expand and soon outgrew its location. So, in 1954, the company purchased and relocated two blocks up Market Street to its present building.
The move was not without regrets. John could no longer just step next door and bring over bowls of baby lima dry beans and bread from the “pool room,” which was a specialty of The Mecca. Back then, women did not enter the men’s play room!
Also, we could no longer dash across the street to Welch’s Drug Store, where we had had the unexpected thrill of meeting the famous Hollywood actress Jennifer Jones. She died earlier this month at 90 years of age.
Another big event was in 1956 when Ashley Brown Futrell Jr. (Brownie) was born on Aug. 31. Mr. Futrell was so proud of him and would bring him into his office, sit him in the editor’s chair, and I would think — I could be working for this little fella some day!
After the move, as more equipment was added, new challenges came. A computer unit was installed that would read the teletypesetter tape, printing news on sheets of paper that were run through a waxer, cut to size, and placed on layout sheets. Thus, retiring the hot lead linotypes.
Not being a writer, perhaps the biggest challenge came when I began covering the society desk in Mrs. Toler’s absence. Using her elaborate write-ups as a guide, I managed to write the weddings, parties, social club news, and personals of people in and out of town. The fun began when I had to draw up a page proof, moving stories around until they were the exact length the space required. The layout was then sent to the production department for the final makeup of the page going to press.
Much later, computers began replacing the typewriters. The teletypesetters became another part of the past, which was sad, in a way, because school children and others touring the plant were really interested in watching its operation.
After 10 years, I left the newspaper for about two years, but returned upon Mr. Futrell’s request 45 years ago. He left us almost five years ago (Feb. 11, 2005), at age 93, but fond memories remain. I sorta became his “Girl Friday.” When the ribbon on his ancient Royal typewriter needed changing or was not working properly, or he needed office supplies (lots of paper clips), or errands run, he always knew where to find me. I would, jokingly, remind him of his statement that he knew when he hired me in 1952 that I would not be able to do the job, but that Mr. Brauff was pressing him to put someone on that machine, which I heard about later. After he was convinced I could, he began telling people that I was the fastest typist in Beaufort County. Of course, he had no way of knowing or proving it.
During my years with the newspaper, I have worked with the previous 51 column writers for the 100th anniversary, plus many others too numerous to name. I enjoyed reading their writings and learning where and what they are now doing — and that I am still remembered by some!
I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to work for, and with, the Futrell Family.
As the Washington Daily News comes to the end of its 100th Anniversary Celebration, our prayer is that the future holds many more successful years for The Voice of the Pamlico.
Margie Gardner is the backbone of the Washington Daily News, and the logical choice to end the series of columns celebrating the paper’s 100th anniversary. Her talent and versatility is surpassed only by her humility, since it took the better part of the past year to convince her to provide this special grand finale.