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A reader writes … By Merry Harris

May 07, 2001

The special commemorative issue celebrating the 100th anniversary of Imperial Valley Press brought back a floodtide of memories of my years at the Press, beginning in 1967, but most of those memories were about people who were not mentioned or were barely mentioned in the commemorative issue.

My first days at the Press were not auspicious. A free-lance photographer was introduced as Women's Page editor at a club meeting. She didn't bother to correct the error. I spent my first year on the job trying to correct it, because all of the clubs in town bypassed me.

One day I came to the office to find my desk piled high with enough photographs to fill the women's section for a month — all of one social event. This called for drastic measures. So I began running a notice that all Women's Page photo requests were to be made through me. This gave me identity. I had to learn photography in a hurry to break this woman's stranglehold.

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When I came to I.V. Press, all of the headlines in the women's section were 14-to-18 point Bodoni, one column wide. I began revamping the pages, using 48-point Goudy and Bodoni heads on feature stories and blocking out the page to please the eye: The page was no longer a cemetery of "tombstone" heads.

My fondest memories of bygone days are of friendships with Jeanette Pardue, later Buckley (who became city editor after Ben Johnston left), Virginia Horn, Paul Ryan and Richard Lucy. Ben Johnston was an ideal employer and I did my best work for him. After this kind, gentle man left, working for the Press was not such a pleasant job for me. But I hung in there as long as failing health would permit.

Paul Ryan, though only a few years older than I, was my father confessor. His wisdom helped me through the darkest hours of my life. He was a family-loving man, and his daughter Mary was his treasure. Paul gave me spiritual ballast.

Betty Bradshaw was more of the sociable women's editor than I. She and I had a trait in common: We were klutter maniacs — our desk always piled high with works in progress. Once Ben Johnson slipped a dollar bill under Betty's debris heap. Years later he needed money for coffee, and retrieved the bill without Betty's ever having known it was there.

Richard Lucy was a fledgling reporter — a diabetic. He wrote humorous verses on the side. I submitted his work to Editor and Publisher, which had published my own humorous verses. As a result, Richard made his first poetry sale ever.

Among the friends of short standing was Carol Buckley, who soon went on to greater tasks. Carol was the best photographer I've ever known, and I prayed nightly for this cub reporter's success.

I met Jeanette Pardue, later Buckley, at a California news women's convention before coming to I.V. Press: We sat at the same table. We were to repeat this at a later convention. Jeanette was and is one of the most level-headed women I've ever seen — quiet, unassuming, intelligent.

And Virginia Horn — my sidekick until I left Imperial Valley Press — I loved Virginia's sense of humor and shared her struggle to keep career and family on an even keel. The only difference was Virginia wanted to be a career woman. I was dragged into the work force out of necessity, kicking and screaming all the way. I wanted to be a stay-at home writer, not a news hen.

So I hung over my desk a reminder: "Only 15 more years until retirement." Luckily (or unluckily) ill health, caused mostly by stress, intervened. I retired to do what I wanted to do: write children's stories, horror stories and poetry.

And, of course, letters to the editor.

I must not forget one of my friends at the Press: Charlie, Mike James' low-slung dog. Mike didn't like women much, so he remained aloof when I tried to be his friend. Charlie wasn't so discriminating. When he needed to go outside, he had only to whimper. He knew I was at his beck and call. So away we went. I think Charlie was an unwilling a career dog as I was a career person.

What ever happened to Charlie?

No doubt he long ago ascended to doggie heaven …

I miss him …

I am now writing a series of dog stories. Charlie will be in them.

And let it be known — he never once soiled the press room floor. In Mike's absence I saw to that.

There are other memories — of the gallant Bobby Shafto, but whether he went to sea I don't know; of a sports editor, name mercifully forgotten, who came to work tipsy every Monday morning and many others.

My days at the Press were, if I was to plagiarize a novel's opening lines, "… the best of times" and "the worst of times."

Thank you, Ben Johnston, for "the best of times." I prefer to remember those and to forget the others.

P.S. Ben Yellen, was delighted in calling the I.V. Press "Pinkley's Prostituted Press," was featured in the commemorative issue. Missing was Norm Pliscou, whose vitriolic letters to the editor created controversy and enlivened the opinion page. He deserves to be remembered.

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