Memories rampant as Times becomes daily

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 9, 2003

Gee. The Demopolis Times will be a daily.

When, as the new publisher of the Times in 1968, I printed "my" first issue, I had in the back of my mind that Demopolis could support a twice-a-week newspaper. I never dreamed the paper would become a daily.

Over the years, I have always received the Times, compliments of the new ownership. I’ve witnessed the paper’s highs and lows and have heard comments during my infrequent visits that "the paper isn’t what it used to be", or "wish you’d come back". Since Jonathan McElvy’s tenure began, I haven’t heard those comments. And I agree with that tone. The new publisher, along with his capable staff has, and is, doing an excellent job, if my opinion as a retired journalist carries any qualification as a judge in this matter.

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When I was a young publisher in Demopolis (boy, that’s hard to comprehend!), it seemed I had the total support of the community, both readers and advertisers. Business was great and readership grew at an astounding rate, allowing the growth of the paper to exceed what I had envisioned…even growing to twice-a-week publication earlier than I had planned.

Grabbing an application for membership to Ducks Unlimited, he asked that I fill it out and give him $17.50. And I did.

I learned to use the shotgun, but my first dove turned out to be a field lark.

I took that information with me to my next stop…Clinkscales. Mr. Emmett Clinkscales, when approached similarly, had the same answer delivered with that infectious smile of his, and I was off to the races.

More support. Right after my family and I had joined the country club, I was approached by Mr. Wilbur (Atkeison), who suggested I visit him on Monday morning at Food Fair. A tough, but generous (I know he won’t like this adjective) customer, Mr. Wilbur supported the paper weekly and sometimes twice-weekly for many, many years except for an unbearingly long six months when we disagreed politically over something that today is now trivial. But he caught up and eventually spent more that year on advertising than in previous years.

And Freddie and Frank Rutledge never went a week without running an ad. Good people, still. Coffee every day at8 a.m. and 3 p.m. and flipping for the bill. Laughing at my mistakes (and there were more than a few) and forgiving me about the more serious ones…occurring from lack of research or just "taking the word of an interested party".

There were two banks, and I had to make a choice, choosing Robertson Banking Company. I still own shares in RBC and Commercial National Bank. Mr. Wallace Harper, through Teddy Braswell, never let a week go by without a good-sized ad. Once, in the late 70s, I was nearDallas with Kim Mayton. I was looking to purchase a new press to replace the smaller Goss press now printing the paper. I made a deal and wrote a $90,000 down payment check that I couldn’t back up with my bank account. I called Teddy Braswell and said, "Teddy, I just wrote a $90,000 check. Will you cover it?" "Sure," he said, "will you come in Monday to sign a note? Will nine percent be okay?" he asked? You can’t do that in today’s atmosphere. Good people.

I could go on and on about the support we received throughout my tenure, which seemed to increase when I bought out my partners and had a huge payment schedule to make each month.

My employees…what times we had. Hard, long hours on into the night melding into more or less a regular schedule which included printing seven or eight other publications in addition to our own on a weekly basis. There were so many good ones and a few less good. But all had energy and complained little.

And there was fun! Wow. Trellis Mae Grunch marrying Lamar P. Farquhart. The report of a six-legged man that could outrun a freight train that kept employees from reporting to work at a lumber yard the next morning. Coleman Mosely called me early the next morning, and let me have it…laughing, finally, before he hung up.

And lifelong friendships…I’ve carried on an almost-weekly correspondence with John Cox Webb since I left to return to Tennessee, and always see him and others when, more often than not, I chug into town aboard this or that boat, on my way to the Gulf or returning to Watts Bar Lake on the Tennessee River…twice this year already.

I could go on. I’m sitting in a Gulf Shores condo typing this on my Dell laptop, laughing and pondering at the same time. I grew up in Demopolis. I’ve always read the Times, and always will. I have to say that my family helped tremendously. My former wife, Dashiell McKay, still lives in Demopolis. Although she had a regular job in the Demopolis school system, she was always there to bring a meal late at night or help in other ways. My daughter Elizabeth, who is now 38 (What?!) was there every Wednesday when needed to "stuff" sections together or stuff inserts in those sections. And more than once counted the change from rack sales.

I’m proud the Times’ owners have taken this bold step to become THE organ for West Alabama. Good leadership reaps bountiful rewards. I’m proud of them. I’m proud of Demopolis. I’m sure Demopolis will show support for this move, too. They have a history.