Rose Post: A dogged reporter and unique writer
By Jason Lesley
I got an e-mail last week from a friend in Salisbury with the news that one of my former Salisbury Post coworkers was near death.
Reporter and columnist Rose Post, whose stories were usually long and intricate, began losing her memory to Alzheimer’s five years ago. Now her struggle to live is over. It seems unusually cruel for a person who loved details to lose her memory. If Rose wasn’t the best writer I’ve ever known, she certainly took the best notes. I only get about half of what’s said in my own notes and I can’t read half of what I’ve written. That leaves me with a few sentences.
Though she didn’t use shorthand, Rose could get down nearly every word. But those notes were often her undoing. She couldn’t bear to leave anyone — or anything — out of a story. So she didn’t. I remember one day she filled half a page, three full columns, with a story about the Salisbury School Board’s discussion of adding chocolate milk to its lunch menu. And the chocolate milk story was just one of three or four from that board meeting.
Rose was a workaholic before it had a name.
At first, she worked far into the night at her typewriter at home in order to get her stories written for the next day’s edition. After the Post went to computers, she would work far into the night at the office. Once she found herself in the middle of a late night search for a prowler and carried a hat rack down the steps to the second floor in case she needed a weapon. We laughed about that episode for years. Rose’s husband, Eddie, seldom complained about her hours, but one night he called one of her co-workers when she was particularly late. This was long before cell phones. Somebody met him at the back door and they went to the newsroom to find Rose asleep at the keyboard.
I think we gave Eddie his own key to the building after that.
Rose found the human element in everything, whether it was a series about the Blue Ridge Parkway or a story about Salisbury’s Elizabeth Dole, a U.S. senator and presidential candidate who was the wife of a U.S. senator and presidential candidate. Mostly, she loved ordinary folks who had a story to tell. Impressed by an expert with a slingshot — he called it a bean shooter — she let him shoot an aluminum can off her head. The episode was caught in a photo that hung on her cubicle wall for years.
Rose’s writing was unique. She had a way of making every paragraph relate to others further down in the story. An editor trying to cut Rose Post’s copy was entering a maze — a minefield would be more precise. They all eventually gave up trying to make her like everyone else. It couldn’t be done.
Rose knew her stories were too long. She was addicted to words and too stubborn to admit it. Post Publisher Jim Hurley gave all his employees personality tests during the 1970s. Rose fit the standardized profile of “iron fist, velvet glove.”
You knew that was true if you sat close enough in the office to hear her raise her children over the telephone.
Rose was part of a great staff of writers at the Post when I started there as a wide-eyed high school sports writer.
I thought most of the men were curmudgeons but they were typical newsmen, hard drinkers and smokers who looked upon reporting like preachers looked on preaching.
The biggest story of the ’60s was integration. It was history, J.F. Hurley Jr., owner of the paper, said. Cover it. And the Post did, from the Ku Klux Klan to the schoolhouse. Rose had felt that segregation was wrong since she had been a little girl growing up in an apartment over her parents’ clothing store. She told the story about being at a drug store soda fountain after World War II and seeing a young American soldier attempting to buy a Coke. He was impeccably dressed in the uniform of his country, but because of the color of his skin he was told he couldn’t be served.
That scene bothered Rose for the rest of her life. Above all, she wanted to be fair. She let everyone tell his own story, mostly in his own words.
Rose had a gift for finding people with stories and getting them to talk. Her first job at the newspaper was in the Society Department. She was to call people on the phone and write a sentence or two about their weekend trips or out-of-town guests for a column called “What They’re Doing.” The managing editor had no idea that she would call a hundred people and write a small book. That was just the beginning of Rose’s overset.
Rose won hundreds of awards, including some prestigious national prizes. I remember overhearing a publisher at the N.C. Press Awards who got so tired of hearing “Rose Post, Salisbury Post, Salisbury, North Carolina” that he said if she won one more award he was going to offer her a job. She won another half-dozen and brushed off any thought of working somewhere else.
Despite all those prizes, a little story about a dog helps to explain her.
Rose was never happy unless she had about a dozen stories in the works. If she found a better idea, the older ones would just move down the “hook” as we called the pointy copyholders anchored in lead left on our desks from the old days of hot metal type.
Rose found a man who sent his dog to a restaurant across the road to fetch his lunch every day. The dog would take the money in a bag and return with the lunch in the bag. Well, Rose kept holding the story as she found more timely things to write about until a car struck and killed the dog.
She wasn’t about to lose that story. She wrote the best obituary that a dog ever had.
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Jason Lesley worked at the Post for 29 years and was assistant publisher when he left to join the Georgetown Times in 2000. He is now editor and publisher of The Manning (S.C.) Times.