FLORENCE GILKESON: Death of an Old-Timey Newspaperman
The Moore family was probably tired and frustrated in June of 1954. That's when John Henry Moore and his father, O.L. Moore, gave me my first full-time newspaper job.
Fresh from the UNC School of Journalism, I had applied to The Laurinburg Exchange for a job as reporter and news editor. It was not my first choice. My dream was a job with The News & Observer covering the state legislature in Raleigh. But The Nuisance and Disturber was not hiring when I picked up my diploma in Chapel Hill, and The Laurinburg Excuse was.
You see, all newspapers have their derogatory nicknames.
Back in those days The Exchange was a no-frills newspaper. The newsroom was entered directly from the street. That's where visitors could buy a newspaper, subscribe, place an ad, consult the publisher and complain in general. A small side room was designated for the advertising staff, consisting of one man who doubled as sports editor.
All these memories flooded back this week with John's death at age 92. The elder Moore was publisher and editor. He wrote editorials, but it was John who actually ran things.
Day after day, I watched as the pressroom staff marched out for lunch at 12 noon on the dot, then marched out again at 5 p.m. They walked in front of my desk, heads and eyes straight ahead. As hard as I tried, I could not get anyone to respond to my greeting. It seems that I was the fourth reporter the Moores had hired that year. The first one worked about a month before quitting, the second lasted one week and the third one day. I was not expected to last, and they saw no point in wasting time on me until they determined I was going to stay.
I knew no one in this town peopled with clannish Scots who eyed most newcomers with suspicion.
If the natives were wary, the Moores were not. John helped me find a place to live and advised me about the people in town, and he and his wife, Carolyn, treated me to dinner at their home on occasion. They had three cute giggling daughters, and a visit was always fun.
One of my first beats was law enforcement. A runoff election was pending for the office of sheriff. When I visited the sheriff's office, however, I found that the deputies were not the least bit interested in helping a reporter, a young female at that. One deputy actually elbowed me aside and rather irritably advised me that they were too busy politicking to bother with the news.
Angry and humiliated, I returned to the office and told John what had happened.
John pointed at my typewriter and ordered me to write a news story detailing exactly what the deputies had said and done. I complied, he took my copy and walked down to the sheriff's office, where he told the all-male gathering that this was the news story The Exchange would be printing if there were no other news from the Sheriff's Department. Then he sent me back, where my reception, while not warm, was more accommodating.
My memory of John Moore is that of a man of contradictions. He was fierce in his defense of his community. Staunchly conservative in many ways, he was broadminded in others. I remember watching him when Carolyn occasionally left one or more of their daughters at our office while she ran an errand. Other fathers would have offered the girls a candy bar. Instead, he gave the restless children a pencil and pad and encouraged them to write.
I also remember their generosity and kindness to the less fortunate. Although critical of the public welfare agency, John and Carolyn became legal assistants and mentors to a needy family, who did not know how to save or how to use their welfare stipend to best advantage.
John fought tirelessly to open local government meetings to the public, a segment of society that includes the press. After his father's death, he wrote hard-hitting editorials about local issues and struggled against a slowing economic tide.
His concern for community continued as long as he was physically able. While still in his 80s, he was playing golf and chairing a church committee assigned the task of healing a rift within the congregation. I remember John and the entire family as caring and loving and always sensitive to the needs of those around them.
John was more than a mentor to me. He was not old enough to be my father, but I still think of him as the person who continued my upbringing after I left my own family nest. He taught me much and I still remember the pleasure I felt when he called me by one of his favorite nicknames, "Scoop" or "Sport."
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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