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As Long as We Remember...

January 28, 2009

The Sun Also Sets Part 2

John W. Ashbury

            [The Baltimore Sun’s decision to cease home delivery – and even newsstand sales west of the metropolitan area, brought back countless memories of my days as a reporter and editor there in an age that has passed this gray lady by. We continue…] (See yesterday’s Part 1)


            Perhaps the most charismatic person in the newsroom was Acting City Editor Clarence Caulfield, sitting in Paul Banker’s chair while he headed up the paper’s Rome Bureau.


            “Cauly,” as everyone called him, was boisterous to say the least, but he knew his business and he knew his “town.” He was sort of a father figure to a lot of young reporters, especially to those of us learning the trade. He pushed and prodded, always with a benevolence designed to make us better news people, to say nothing of creating a love-hate relationship – sometimes.


            Well, in keeping with the public’s perception of reporters as hard working and hard drinking, as each edition – there were four or five in those days – closed, Cauly would rise from his desk and shout “Calvert House” as loud as he could. In short order the newsroom emptied, except for those still working on stories for the next edition.


            The parade down Calvert Street to the closest bar, even in the harshest of weather, didn’t take long. And the time there never lasted more than 30 minutes – about the time it takes to down two shots with a beer chaser.


            Perhaps the most significant day of my sojourn there then was when Charles “Buck” Dorsey, the managing editor, called me into his office to chastise me for some juvenile outburst in the newsroom. It started badly for me as I hung my head and listened to a verbal assault.


            It turned out to be a more important conversation when it turned to the future. We talked about inspirations and aspirations. It ended something like this:


            “John, you need to go back to college and get your degree. Major in English and history, then come back to us and we’ll teach you all the journalism you need to know.” Wise words that were followed.


            After college – and a degree as Mr. Dorsey suggested – and stops in Roanoke, Bloomington, IN, Raleigh, and once again in Frederick, I went back to The Sunpapers, but this time it was to the rim of the copy desk of The Evening Sun, with some time in the composing room with Bill Wells and Joe D’Adamo. There it was as a make-up editor, putting the finishing touches on each edition’s pages. Again, it was two more teachers helping along a novice.


            But on that rim in those days of the late ’60s, were some of the finest people I have ever met: Phil Li, who had worked for Sen. Carl Hayden for many years; Mike Adamovich, a Russian immigrant with a vast knowledge of the world; Clark Smith, whose sense of humor rates near the top and who went on to write editorials for Richmond newspapers; Ed Hewitt, who became and remains a trusted and devoted friend despite our differences politically; Wally Reid, as laidback an editor as there ever was; Grace Darin, who really knew her stuff but who failed the personal hygiene test; Paul White who frequently forgot most everything, but who was efficient in the slot; Ernie Freda, who loved all things Japanese; Fred Judd, who always gave one the impression of having been a real playboy before finally calming down after his mid-life crisis; Bramwell Terrill, who personified the old image of a banker in early movies; Robert Johansson, whom I scarcely recall at all; Dave Cohn, who lasted into the 21st Century and became the last of this crew to retire; Bob Greenwood, “Super Dome Man of Chrome” for obvious reasons, and me.


            Everyday was an adventure. Everyday was a joy. Everyday we looked forward to the next because it was fun to come to work and interact with these people. The memory of them is something very special. There are only four of us remaining now, sad to say.


            There are so many great stories from that rim. But one stands out. There was a Guild strike in 1972; lasted a long time, if memory serves. When we returned, the obvious question to ask was “What did you do while you were off work?”


Phil Li, the quiet oriental compliment to our plate, looked very serious when he answered that he had opened a Chinese laundry while on “vacation. Everyone seemed surprised until some asked “why.” He responded that “he wanted to iron while the strike was hot.” Composure dissolved into hysterical laughter.


            There are other stories of those days, but they will have to wait another day. Suffice it to say “these were the best of times…”


            And the decision of The Baltimore Sun to halt daily home delivery of its product in Western Maryland (west of Carroll County) makes it all the more sad. Having read it most every day for more than 60 years, the withdrawal pains have already set in. And Monday was the first day.


            Thankfully, when the pain gets too bad, I can always drive around until I find a local store that stocks newspaper from around the area.


            Maybe – just maybe – they will have a copy or two of The Sun lying around.

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