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Losing members of The Leader family

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You know you're getting old when multiple people you used to work with start dying.

That notion has hit me the last few years as so many members of The Leader family have passed away.

George Whitley, the former publisher and editor who hired me in 1996, died in 2007.

Since then several have followed, including his brother Larry Whitley, Rodney Eubank, Jack Harris Sr., David Byrd, Martha Jo Shelley and Bill Simpson.

And then, on Friday, another former editor, Bill Simonton, died.

I worked with all of them except Simonton and Eubank, whose departure from The Leader in 1996 created the vacancy I filled.

At 42, I hope I still have some good years in me, but man, it gets you to thinking, particuarly as you write stories about these people.

Many people in the community knew these folks well, but I thought this would be a nice time to share a few things I observed about these people while working in the trenches at The Leader.

George Whitley was the calmest boss I ever had by a long shot.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, there were a lot of people at the newspaper with, shall we say, strong personalities.

My cubicle was right next to George's office.

There were many times I saw people enter his office screaming about one thing or another. But I never heard George raise his voice.

He would remain seated, listen and smile while the complainant ranted, raved and eventually ran out of steam.

Then he would talk about the problem and the party or parties who entered his office would quite often leave with a smile on their face.

He was the ultimate peacemaker.

His brother Larry, who worked as an ad salesman, was probably the nicest guy who worked at The Leader.

On one occassion he pointed out an error I had made in a story about one of his customers. I believe I spelled the customer's name incorrectly.

Back then, and even now to a certain degree, I really didn't care for the advertising department to stick their nose into editorial matters.

Most critiques of my work were met with dismissive, or maybe even hostile, comments.

But you couldn't be mad at Larry. I accepted his criticism and went about my business.

It was mainly because I had respect for the man, but also probably because every Wednesday, which was production day, he hand-delivered a doughnut to every employee. Little things like that matter.

Jack was The Leader's court jester.

Sure, some of his views were politically incorrect and, at times, kind of offensive.

When I was young and idealistic, sometimes he rubbed me the wrong way. But looking back, his heart was always in the right place.

How can you not like a man who walks around the office singing, "It's five o'clock somewhere."

Martha Jo did a little bit of everything around The Leader, but I remember her most for her proof reading prowess.

Not too many typos got past her.

I probably worked at The Leader for five years before I knew what David Byrd's first name was. He was known simply as "Byrd."

He walked slowly and spoke in low tones while he did his thing in the print shop, but he was always good for a sarcastic comment.

I work in sarcasm like Picasso worked with paint, so I always loved talking with him.

As for Rodney and Bill Simonton, I got to know them even though I never worked with them.

Simonton was nothing but class and Rodney, who served for several years as the county's school board chairman, always helped me out when I was reporting on the school board and quite often had no idea what I was doing.

Like most things in life, I didn't fully appreciate my early days at The Leader. It wasn't always fun, of course, but looking back, I realize I worked with a pretty special group of people.

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