Wineka column: Gordon Peacock should be the one writing this headline

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 4, 2018

At the funeral for Gordon Peacock on Thursday afternoon, the Rev. Gary S. Coble started and ended his eulogy with golf stories.

But he didn’t tell this one:

When I first came to the Salisbury Evening Post in 1980, I wondered what the story was behind a box on Assistant Sports Editor Ed Dupree’s desk.

It apparently went back to a round of golf Peacock played about eight years earlier with Dupree, Jason Lesley and Gordon Hurley. Peacock was once a good baseball player, a lefty who could hit a golf ball a country mile.

Local courses sometimes paid the price if he happened not to square the ball up on his muscular shots. On this particular day, Lesley recalled once, Peacock “carved a divot out of the 13th tee the size of a cow pie.”

The divot became legendary, and you have to have known the late Dupree to appreciate this, but he saved that clump of dirt and grass, which measured 88 square inches on the top. It was inside that box on Dupree’s desk.

When Peacock retired in the summer of 1999, Dupree used the occasion to open the box and reveal the dehydrated mound of brown grass and crumbling soil. The unflappable Peacock only smiled.

Stories of golf, gardening, fishing and believing rained down Thursday on St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, to which Peacock devoted much of his life outside his 40-year career at the Post, mostly as a wire-service editor.

My favorite Peacock story — we all called him “Peacock” — was his headline for that time the pesky volcano in Washington State, Mount St. Helens, kept erupting and drawing national attention. As I remember it, Peacock wrote this final-edition headline on the Associated Press story and immediately left for a week’s vacation.

It said, “Mount St. Helens shows her ash again.”

While we were walking toward the church Thursday afternoon, photographer Wayne Hinshaw asked if I had ever heard about the doghouse. I know I won’t be recounting this exactly right, but it seems Peacock once built a beautiful doghouse for one of his mutts and ran electricity to it so the dog would have a nice light and could stay warmer when the weather became nippy.

Not long after he built the doghouse, Peacock came home from work one day and found it burnt to a crisp. The dog was fine, but he had somehow chewed through the wiring, causing a short and the subsequent fire.

These are things you remember when you worked with a guy like Peacock. You relished giving him a hard time about divots, headlines and doghouses.

I played a few rounds of golf with Peacock, who became a 6-handicapper soon after he retired and could play more often. It was always fun. Peacock had a wry sense of humor, a twinkle in his eye and a great deal of patience with all the idiots, including me, around him.

The work he did for decades at the newspaper was grueling. He had to be the first one in the newsroom to sort through all the state, national and world stories. Wherever there wasn’t a local story, Peacock filled the spot with wire stories, which meant reading them, writing headlines, matching photos when room allowed, laying out the pages and overseeing the final pasteups.

Peacock saw all manner of changes through the years and was retiring as computerized pagination for copy editors was in full swing. When he read the job description for the person who was going to be hired to take his place, Peacock told his pastor, “I don’t even qualify for that job.”

But he could have done it. The late Jim Hurley wrote a story about Peacock in 1972 that described him this way: “He is soft-spoken, bespectacled and full of dry wit. He is quite modest and unassuming, so his good nature is being sorely tested by all the kidding he’s been getting in the office about this article.”

Peacock’s dad died when he was 3, and his mother supported him and his sisters by working at Cannon Mills Plant No. 7. Peacock attended Boyden High School in Salisbury and was an All-State selection at second base when the Boyden baseball team won the state championship in 1955.

The Cincinnati Reds signed him to a pro contract, but after a full week at training camp in Georgia, Peacock quit and came home, explaining, “I liked baseball if I could play when I wanted to, not all the time.”

Peacock bounced around at various jobs, working for Cannon Mills, as a boxer at Owens-Illinois and at Parrish Bakeries, where he said he couldn’t stand his “pie job.”

He started working as a printer at the Post in 1960 for $55 a week. When the paper switched from hot metal to computers, Peacock became a paste-up man in the composing room, then was tabbed for wire editor.

The editor told him in August that if he could master the wire job by Christmas, it was his. Peacock had it down in about three weeks. That same year, the newspaper sent him to Columbia University in New York to learn some finer points of the job, which became his for more than three decades

St. Matthew’s Lutheran is a beautiful, robust country church, thanks in large part to people like Peacock. Dating back to 1838, it has stained glass and white plank walls.

The congregation still puts up the attendance numbers and the amounts of money in the weekly offering plate or the building fund.

Coble said Peacock attended Sunday school and Bible study every week, always sitting in the back row. When Peacock’s health wouldn’t allow him to make it any longer, he studied the Bible at home.

Peacock’s favorite passages came from Hebrews, particularly where many of the paragraphs start with “By faith, Abel…”; “By faith, Enoch …”; “By faith, Noah …”; “By faith, Abraham …” and so on.

“By faith,” Coble said Thursday, “Gordon is walking on streets of gold today. … His body wore out, but he didn’t.”

It hits you hard as you sit in the church or stand in the receiving line seeing all the pictures of Peacock’s life away from the newspaper. Hanging out with his wife, Helen, on the beach. Showing off his garden’s tomatoes. Holding up the day’s catch of fish. Standing on the church steps.

Here was a man who lived. Here was a man who believed.

Here was a man who appreciated the world’s biggest divot because he made it with friends.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263 or mark.wineka@salisburypost.com.

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