Call it the 31-year itch.
After three decades at The Frederick News-Post in a profession that has brought me more joy than I could have ever imagined, it's time to tackle some projects that have been put off for too long. Friday was my last day.
As I shared my decision with others in recent weeks, the urge to swap war stories was overwhelming, and I ask readers to be indulgent as I take a trip down memory lane.
I first laid eyes on The News-Post when a friend of mine was invited to be part of a panel of journalists at a conference in Frederick and I tagged along, hoping to make some job connections. We toured the newsroom, and I was smitten. The piles of dusty papers, books, police scanners, glue pots and overflowing ashtrays were a far cry from the modern, but sterile, newspaper where I was working in Pennsylvania. This, I said, was a real newspaper. It even smelled like a newspaper and the clacking AP machines in the hallway made it sound like a newspaper.
Several months later, I was on the copy desk, working the late shift that ended at about 1 a.m., just in time for us to make last call at the Olde Towne Tavern. At that time there was both The Frederick Post, the morning paper, and The News, which came out in the afternoon.
Mostly we were a bunch of snot-nosed kids who thought we knew it all, but there were also the veterans like the late Bill Graffam, a court reporter who drove an old Checker Cab and tipped his toupee to the judges. He was also known to drop his trousers in the middle of the newsroom in order to tuck in his shirttail.
As city editor, Bob Harper was also one of the vets. He was the kind of editor who would chew you out for botching a story or not hitting the street to look for news, and then turn right around and take you out to lunch.
Managing editor at the time was the late Tom Mills, who always traveled with a camera around his neck and wielded a pair of scissors the size of hedge clippers for cutting copy in the composing room. Tom was sought out by the staff for more than just newspaper stuff. One Saturday morning a fragile new reporter, living on her own for the first time, called Tom and said: "Mr. Mills, my dryer's on fire. Should I call the fire department or my landlord?"
But fragile didn't cut it in the old News-Post days. You were expected not to blink at gruesome accident stories, or be cowed by outraged politicians who thought nothing of calling and interrupting your sound sleep after seeing the morning paper.
Keeping the newsroom tough was one of the jobs of the late Betty Frank, whose main duty was as receptionist -- this during the days when the public flowed at will into the office, most of them with legitimate story leads, or at least a good laugh.
A kind and fun-loving woman, Betty nonetheless spoke her mind in between puffs from her Pall Malls. A spread in the paper about a man in his mid-90s going around and collecting cans, for instance, made her wheel on the reporter and ask: "Just what did you think was so interesting about an old man rooting through garbage cans?"
Betty especially had her hands full with Bryan Denson, a reporter who was as talented at the typewriter as he was at attracting women including one who gladly did his laundry and then would deliver it, stacked and neatly folded, on his desk until the office den mother put a stop to it.
When he started at The News-Post, Bryan didn't have a car and would think nothing of sprinting from the office on East Patrick Street out to Fort Detrick for a story. Later, he made weekly payments to our boss, the late George Randall, for an old white Ford Pinto.
Characters? We had plenty, but in addition to their entertainment value, there was also their love and passion for the news business. If you were the one who broke a murder story, everyone better keep their mitts off it was your story and you came in on your day off or worked long hours to get it reported.
But that's not to say we weren't a team. It was nothing for a bunch of us to troop downstairs to the pressroom and watch a story roll off that one of our colleagues nailed by hard work and cultivating a cast of sources.
For sheer guts, few reporters could match Julia Robb, a red-haired Texan, tenacious as a bulldog. She once called the home of a man who was holding his girlfriend hostage, getting him on the line and hearing his story directly. A feature Julia wrote about ultra-light aircraft had her actually making a solo flight and not being able to land. Both directions of U.S. 15 were closed and the skies were getting dark, but she finally landed, and then hot-footed it to the office to write her story.
It's hard to compact 31 years into a single column, not when you look at the rich tapestry of people who entered through the doors. We were more than co-workers, gathering together as we mourned the loss of many people through the years George Randall, Mike Powell, Gail Cissna and more recently Skip Lawrence.
We also had a lot of laughs, and I hope to gather with my fellow old News-Posties in the days to come and retell the stories, because isn't that really what we should be about, telling good stories?
Nancy Luse can be reached at nluse@ verizon.net.