Elizabeth Cook: 40 years and a revolution ago

Published 11:50 pm Saturday, November 10, 2018

A lot has happened in Salisbury over the past 40 years, the span of my career at the Post.

Rufus Honeycutt was chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners. Other members were Hall Steele, Paul Smith, Bob Mauldin and Dr. John Wear — all Democrats at the time.

If remembering an all-Democrat board of Rowan County commissioners doesn’t make me a dinosaur, I don’t know what does.

Well, working at the same business for all that time is a bit prehistoric by today’s standards.

But back to politics.

Wear set me straight when a story under my byline mistakenly called him a Republican.

Smith, sensing a shift in the political winds, switched parties and became a Republican. It was a smart move; he went on to represent Rowan in the state Senate for several terms.

Before meetings, commissioners would gather in the office of County Manager Set Murdoch to talk over in private what they were about to talk over in public. They were not ones for openly disagreeing with each other.

The election of Republican Brad Ligon put an end to all that harmony and pre-meeting. The Reagan Revolution was about to change Rowan County in dramatic ways. But that’s another story.

Dr. Wear went on to become mayor of Salisbury, and he said something during an interview that stuck with me: He’d only been in Salisbury 20 years, he said, so he was still a newcomer.

County commissioner. Mayor. Still a newcomer.

That was shocking to someone who’d been in Salisbury less than five years, but now it makes sense.

Every community has its core of native families. Here, they are the people whose ancestors’ names can be found in Jethro Rumple’s 1916 book, “A History of Rowan County.” The subtitle says it all: “Containing Sketches of Prominent Families and Distinguished Men.”

They have roots — deep, deep roots.

Roots or no roots, after you spend 35 or more years in a place people start asking questions like, “Haven’t you retired yet?”

There are fields where you can retire after 20 years, but in journalism you’re just getting warmed up. Rose Post did her best work in her 70s and early 80s. Homer Lucas also worked past 80. So I was really taken aback the first time someone asked me about retirement about five years ago.


For all-time, most eye-opening moments, it was up there with the first time a clerk offered the senior citizen discount. Who, me?

Makes me think of the day I was shopping with our daughters, then teenagers, and saw this pitiful-looking middle-aged woman dragging along — who turned out to be me, in a mirror.

Anyway, for a long time retirement seemed to be way, way off. Then one day it didn’t seem way off or ridiculous.

I don’t feel much older than the young reporter who interviewed Dr. Wear, or than that middle-aged mom suffering through Abercrombie. But here I am, a grandmother who picks up her iPhone every so often to see if there’s a new picture of the grandson.

Have you ever gone to a  class reunion and wondered why everyone else has aged so much? It’s called denial.

So here we are in the Rowan County of 2018, nearly 2019.

Through the years we’ve gone from two school systems to one. People who arrived here after 1990 have no idea what a protracted ordeal that was, bringing together city and county.

County commissioners have gone from Democratic control to Republican control — and then to the other Republicans’ control. That’s a long story.

The economy shifted —  up and then far, far down. We have nearly full employment again, but the jobs that replaced textiles did not replace textile wages.

And we’re in the internet age. Even “the information superhighway” is outdated now. The internet is pervasive — the way we do business, the way we communicate and get entertainment — almost as pervasive as the air we breathe.

Time marches on. The only constant is change. Deadlines make things happen. My three credos. They add up to a sense of inevitable forward motion that can keep a person going for a long time.

But going toward what?

This newcomer is ready to step aside and let someone else manage the daily snapshot of history. Stick with it. You won’t believe the changes you’ll see.   

Elizabeth Cook is editor of the Salisbury Post.