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Lessons in living: Journalist Joe Junod’s memoir includes scenes from Salisbury

Author

Joe Junod worked at the Salisbury Post in the 1970s and now lives in Virginia.

Junod’s book includes some of his experiences in Salisbury.

What does a journalist do after a long career of writing, editing and leadership in the newspaper profession?

If you’re Joe Junod, you keep writing.

Junod, who worked at the Salisbury Post from 1971 to 1975, has written a memoir, “INK: A Life in Letters.”

Junod’s career took him to newspapers in New York, Hawaii, Florida, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. He become a vice president in the Gannett organization. Now he lives in Charlottesville, Va.

Since some of his formative years were spent at the Salisbury Post, Junod includes in his book several Salisbury people who made an impression, from Publisher Jim Hurley to carrier Garland Gaither.

The book has a lesson for each letter of the alphabet. Here are some excerpts that strike close to home at the Post:

It was, as they say, the ride of a lifetime. Wouldn’t trade it for a mint Mickey Mantle rookie card.

Four decades in the newspaper business can do many nasty things to even the sanest person: kill you, drive you to drink, turn you into a cynical observer of the human race.

Fortunately, I dodged those bullets as my years in the trade exposed me a non-stop wonder of people, experiences and ideas. A few of those people, experiences and ideas were nasty, unpleasant and dumb. But they represent the minority.

Using the alphabet as my guide, here are a few of those fine people, experiences and ideas that shaped my career, my life and my thinking.

INTEGRITY

When I think of integrity, I think of Jimmy Hurley, editor, publisher and owner of the Salisbury Post when I worked there in the 1970s.

In the late 1960s, Hurley, a man raised in the Jim Crow South, made two changes that angered readers of all stripes … the rich, the not-so-rich, the powerful and the powerless.

He decided his newspaper could no longer publish engagement and wedding photos of white women two columns wide, and black women one column wide. So, all such photos became one column wide. The white community, as you might expect, went nuts.

The second action was to eliminate the “Negro News” header in social news. All social news – white and black – would be published together. Well, the white community went crazy again; but Hurley was blindsided when a delegation of blacks came to his office and asked him to restore the “Negro News” header. Their fear: that black social news would be tagged onto the end of white social news, and if there was too much news for the available space, black news would be cut.

Hurley promised that would not happen. To the best of my knowledge, it didn’t.

Through the uproar, Hurley listened, but he did not back down. That’s integrity, backbone — and doing the right thing.

JOURNALISM

… Two of my favorite characters in journalism were Bootie Brawley and Heath Thomas, each of whom spent a lifetime in the Salisbury newsroom. Bootie taught me how to run the wire desk, and instilled in me the importance of finding the “Hey Martha” story for Page One. Heath taught me how to report without fear or favor. My favorite story about these two occurred during the Centennial celebration of the Civil War, or, as it is still known in parts of the South, the War of Northern Aggression. Seems Bootie and Heath decided to participate in a weekend re-enactment at the Gettysburg battlefield. They donned their North Carolina uniforms and headed north. Come Monday, neither Bootie nor Heath reported to work. Ditto Tuesday and beyond. Finally, the publisher’s phone rang. A farmer near Gettysburg was calling.

“Do you know a Major Bootie Brawley and Corporal Heath Thomas of the North Carolina 5th Calvary?”

The publisher (Jimmy Hurley) said he did. “Are they all right?” he inquired.

“They sure are. They’ve been living in my barn for the better part of a week now. But you better come get them, since they aren’t fit to drive.”

Jimmy went and picked them up, paid them for the week they missed, and held no grudges.

During this era, Heath had infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan — he had developed a source inside the group. The Klan would meet and the next day, the newspaper would report on the meeting. Heath even uncovered a photograph of the county sheriff leading a Klan parade, which was published on Page 1.

One day, an angry man stormed into the newsroom, armed with a pistol. “I want Heath Thomas and I want him now!” he shouted, as most of us dove under our desks. Turns out he was the Grand Dragon of the North Carolina KKK. Heath cracks the door to his office, telling the guy to take a hike (in coarser language) and asking the photographer to capture the scene so he could publish it the next day. Finally, the publisher (again, Jimmy Hurley) came in and defused the situation. That photo was published the next day.

Bootie was the one who told me the following story about Zebulon Vance, a North Carolina governor and U.S. senator, which Bootie claimed really happened. I’ve been unable to find proof.

Sometime after the Civil War, the Senate was debating whether to repair bridges in the South destroyed in the conflict. A South Carolina senator was pushing for a bridge over a river near Columbia.

Vance rose in indignation and told his colleagues, “We don’t need that bridge. Hell, I can p— halfway across that river.”

Someone shouted at Vance, “Sir, you are out of order.”

Vance replied: “Hell, yes, I am. If I wasn’t, I could p— all the way across that river.”

True? Who knows? Who cares? As someone once said in jest, “Don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.”

STEWARDSHIP

… We too often approach giving from a position of scarcity, rather than abundance. Stephen Covey got it right when he wrote:

“People with a scarcity mentality tend to see everything terms of win-lose. There is only so much, and if someone else has it, that means there will be less for me.” He added: “The more principle-centered we become, the more we develop an abundance mentality …”

… Jimmy Hurley, my old boss in North Carolina, was a great giver. He was wealthy, and he and his wife Gerry used that wealth to improve the lives of their neighbors. At his death, a long-time colleague wrote:

“As publisher, Hurley followed his father’s example of investing in equipment, being efficient, preserving cash flow and creating stability. But he also sought to improve employee pay, advertising rates, circulation numbers and the paper’s overall appearance.”

The colleague quoted Hurley on his philosophy: “On family newspapers, I think too many families try to make a good living without working. I think our generation was very lucky we didn’t grow up feeling rich. We grew up feeling an opportunity to contribute.”

During and after Jimmy’s days at the Post, the Hurleys led some of the community’s biggest fundraising campaigns and contributed millions to projects that helped to build parks, YMCAs, homeless shelters, college buildings, scholarships, senior centers, libraries, swimming pools, school athletic facilities and more.

“I lean on people,” he said. “I know who has the money. They can’t poor-mouth me.”

But the always competitive Hurley said he never took on a fundraising cause he didn’t believe in or one in which he couldn’t be a winner.

“I never talked anybody into giving money,” Hurley explained. “I give them a chance to invest their profits in this community.”

Out of the public eye, Hurley quietly funded college students who needed financial assistance, employees who could use help with medical or utility bills, and residents who required a leg up.

I went on several fundraising calls with Hurley when I worked at his newspaper. My favorite was this: He was leading an effort to build a community pool in a poor section of town, where mostly blacks lived. We visited a very rich man who said he’d be glad to contribute. He wrote a check and handed it to Hurley. Hurley looked at the number, looked at the guy and said something like: “This is an embarrassment. Keep your miserly cash.” The check was for a pittance. And we walked out, with Hurley muttering and cursing. I believe the next day a much larger check arrived at the newspaper for the pool.

Hurley spoke about the legacy he hoped to leave.

“When the Great Scorer comes to mark against my name,” he said, “He’s going to ask what happened to all those opportunities He entrusted me with. I don’t want to have to tell Him, ‘I hid ’em in a lock box at the bank.’ ”

What a great lesson in stewardship. It’s not how much — for most of us cannot give what Jimmy and Gerry gave. Rather, it is a matter of proportion. What percentage of your financial being (and I presume, your soul) are you willing to give away to help others who have less than you?

WILLPOWER

The dictionary offers numerous definitions of “will” and “willpower.”

Permit me to add another. Actually, a synonym. If you looked up the word “willpower” in my dictionary, you would encounter a picture of Allen H. Neuharth, a man who personified the word.

Ah, the pity that most of you never had the pleasure (and sometimes pain) of knowing Al, not to mention working for him.

Al Neuharth was CEO and chairman, in the 1970s and 1980s, of Gannett.

He was a force of nature — a poor kid from the wilds of South Dakota who rose to run the largest media company (at the time) on earth.

A bigger pain in the ass I have never met. And I say that with affection.

It was my good fortune to hang around Al in the mid-1980s as he was winding down his career. As he neared retirement I asked him what he would miss the most about being CEO. Without missing a beat, he said, “My jets.” He had, at that time, not been on a commercial airliner in 25 years.

Al lived large.

It would be easy to share many Al stories, but here’s what is cemented in my mind: Al said something like this to his senior staff, “Let’s join the big leagues and create a national newspaper.”

Inside the company, the naysayers went wild — mostly the finance types. Al stared them down. USA TODAY debuted on September 15, 1982. In attendance at the debut party was President Ronald Reagan. Who else? Al dreamed no small dreams.

For years, USA TODAY bled red ink, and sucked up resources from the company’s other 90+ newspapers. The finance types repeatedly sought to kill the newspaper. With his force of will, coupled with tactics that would make Machiavelli proud, Al beat back, beat down and beat up his internal opposition. The external ridicule was immediate and continued for years — witness the moniker, McPaper. Rather than be cowed by that label, Al reveled in it, and marketed it. Al was a marketing savant.

When the newspaper debuted, Warren Buffett said publicly he’d eat crow if USA TODAY ever made a profit.

When the profit arrived, Neuharth told me to call Buffett to ask where we should deliver the crow.

Buffett howled his congratulations.

ZEST

Whenever I encounter the word “zest,” I see a face, the face of Garland Gaither of Salisbury, North Carolina. I was privileged to know Garland during the four years I lived in that city in the 1970s. It is difficult to describe him, because he was so much more than the sum of his parts. Let me try:

Garland was a very big man who came in a small, smiling package. For me, he symbolized many things:

• The value of hard work, especially a willingness to do work that many others would shun as beneath them;

• Kindness to all he encountered;

• Refusal to accept the ways of the past, but a stubbornness untainted by victimhood;

• A simplicity that disguised just how smart he was.

Garland was maybe 5’ 4” —  and my favorite image of him was when he picked up his wife from work at Belk’s Department Store, and the two rode home on Garland’s old bicycle (Garland claimed his bike was more than 50 years old) – his wife sitting on the seat while Garland stood on the pedals and pumped.

Garland started working at the newspaper in the 1930s — his job was to light the fires that melted the lead that enabled printers to set the type to produce the newspaper. When I came to know him, the linotype machines were gone, but Garland was still delivering newspapers to his neighborhood, the black section of Salisbury. If Garland was your carrier, you got your newspaper every afternoon, and every week you paid your bill, plus an extra 10 cents for having the privilege of Mr. Garland Gaither Himself deliver your newspaper.

He would also hawk newspapers on a street corner. I can still hear his shout: “Get your Salisbury right here.”

And here’s the thing: Starting as a boy, Garland went to the bank most every day it was open to deposit the money he had earned. Some years before I knew him, he discovered stockbrokers and … well … you get the idea.

Here was a black man who was born into Jim Crow South, where many, if not all, avenues of success were closed to him. Yet he carved out his own route to happiness and financial security … always with a smile on his face and a hello for everyone. He washed windows and cleaned bathrooms late at night in the downtown business district. Garland was a man of stature, of substance, a man from whom life lessons could be — and were — learned.

It is fitting that this rumination ends with Garland. May you be blessed enough to have had a Garland Gaither cross your path for a time on your journey.

Even better, may you evoke the spirit of Garland wherever life takes you.

“INK: A Life in Letters,” a 108-page paperback, will soon be available at the Salisbury Post for $7.95. Junod is donating proceeds to the Salisbury Post Christmas Happiness Fund. Call 704-797-4244 for details.

For more information, go to www.joejunod.com.

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