Editor and Publisher
John H. Walker
The first hard lesson I learned in the newspaper business pertained to obituaries. I have never forgotten it.
My career began as a spring sports and obit clerk at my hometown Delta Democrat-Times in Greenville, Miss. After 5 p.m., I would go to the office and take track, golf, tennis and baseball results, along with obituaries, and type them up. When I finished, I would roll them into the typewriter of the appropriate staff member and go home.
One day, I found a note taped to my gray Underwood typewriter that “Little Hodding wanted to see me.” That meant Hodding Carter, III who was the editor in chief and publisher. His father was “Big” Hodding and the proud owner of more than a couple Pulitzer Prizes that hung in the entryway at the newspaper.
“How do you like what you’re doing, Johnny?” was the way the conversation opened. I told really did like it.
“How did you know how to spell Mr. Suchandsuch’s name yesterday?” he asked. I responded that I just knew.
“Well, you just knew wrong!” he said in a louder voice as his right hand rose into the air and slammed back into the desk top so quickly that it seemed as if it was a blur.
Mr. Suchandsuch, you see, was a prominent businessman in Greenville and apparently, I was the only person who did not know how to correctly spell his name. Luckily, there were folks at the newspaper who did.
“For 99.9 percent of the people,” he began, “the only time their name is ever in the newspaper is when they are born, if they are arrested or when they die … and at the Delta Democrat-Times, we will damn well get it right! Do you understand? As meekly as a high school junior could acknowledge such a lesson, I nodded in the affirmative and said, “Yes, sir.”
“Good. Go back to work … and thank you.”
Never have I forgotten that lesson, which was made even more meaningful by the fact Little Hodding was seldom in the office, as he was active in politics and civil rights and he was out as much as he was in.
Daddy always said our name is one of our few true possessions, added that if you ruin it, you have nothing left.
That’s along the line of Hodding’s lesson, too. Death is a certainty and when someone dies, let’s at least get the name right.
But to do that, you have to get the obituary in the newspaper and we at The Daily Southerner couldn’t do that last week. And I’m afraid if we had gotten it in, we would have mucked it up in some form or fashion.
Even when we tried to gain some measure of recovery and at least get it online on Friday before the service on Saturday, we couldn’t even do that. We found the obituary that hadn’t been run and then left it laying on a counter. It was still there Sunday afternoon after I had sent an email to Melanie Little that I couldn’t explain what happened or why.
Sometimes, things seem so simple that it makes no sense when you can’t connect the dots from A to B to C, but we couldn’t.
We at The Daily Southerner owe an apology to the family of Donald “Wild Man” Kinnin, Sr., who died on March 16. His service was Saturday at Mildred Missionary Baptist Church and we couldn’t get the obituary in the paper or online.
His family, which includes his widow, Cathy, sons Donald, Jr. and Brian and stepchildren Mike Waters, Roger Pittman and Mandy Andrews, asked that in lieu of flowers, please consider memorials to the Youth Ministry of Mildred Missionary Baptist Church, 139 Ellis Road, Tarboro.
We also owe Ms. Little an apology, because while this is the first time I’ve heard of a problem, she says it has happened before.
It shouldn’t, and I will work to try and keep it from happening again, because it is not OK.
(John H. Walker is editor and publisher of The Daily Southerner. He may be contacted at 823-3106 or email@example.com)