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Birney Imes: Email inquiry triggers flood of memories


Birney Imes



Donna Grant deserves a byline on today's column.  


Several weeks ago someone mentioned Al Puckett had been named distinguished hospital trustee of the year for the state and wondered why it hadn't been in the paper. 


Al, whose family business is Columbus Brick, has ably served on the Baptist board since the county sold the hospital to the Baptist system in 1993. For a time he served as board chairman for the local hospital and presently is the incoming chairman of Baptist's Corporate Board of Directors. 


I emailed Donna, who works in marketing at Baptist, and she resent the press release with news of Al's award in June. Donna, who worked at The Dispatch years ago, understood my plight precisely. Here's the postscript to her reply: 




P.S. I just had a flashback ... and was wondering how many times I went up to the morgue to the bound books to research historical facts, search for an old obit for a family member, look for a news article such as this, etc. Those 20 years were some of the best years of my life. We were just a big family with a revolving door. Miss Helen (Gault) with her bananas wrapped up in paper towels in the refrigerator; Mr. (Joe) King with his iced coffee in that old red thermos; Mr. (Davis) Basinger with his big old dog that slept in the alley; Mr. Arthur (Blanchard) climbing over the press like a monkey; Doris Wright with fingers that could fly over the keyboard at the speed of light; Skip (Burson) hollering at me to get out from in front of the window when the tornado came through downtown (I was spellbound by the mannequin from Ruth's as she sailed towards the post office.); Percy (Smith) in advertising with a drawer full of green plums; Charlie Hopkins with his upstairs darkroom walls lined with Playboy centerfolds. I could go on and on. Somebody needs to write a book. I really miss those people and those days. Aren't memories grand? 




Yes indeed. And I, too, remember most of those characters. I don't know if in those days you had to be a character to work at a newspaper or if the job made one of you. Some of both, I suppose. 


My request to use the above postscript in a column provoked a second tidal wave of memories. With such a memory and eye for detail, Donna may have missed her calling, that of a reporter. She continues: 




Of course you may use my ramblings. And I was a child at 17. I grew up there. I loved your daddy, Miss Helen and all the rest of that crazy bunch. I'll never forget walking in the front door my first day on the job after Skip hired me and smelling that ink. 


Lord, I loved it, plus the excitement and adrenaline rush of the newsroom scanner going off, the photographers running out the back door to get the first photos, the hum and vibration of the press starting to roll, even the dusty morgue with those heavy, bound books I had to keep in order when nobody else did. 


During my career I also had to dummy the paper/layout the daily pages, sell display and classified ads, keep the newsroom in order, type all of the obits in by deadline after handwriting them on a form, and mercy, Vanessa Carter would come lumbering in the front door five minutes before cut-off time with a dozen dead folks to type in every week. But with her big smile you couldn't stay mad long. 


... I also vividly remember sitting in the newsroom and we heard a tremendous but distant boom; then all the glass in the windows shook and shook. That was when the firecracker plant blew up. I can just see Jennifer (Allen) typing away with a big golf umbrella over her computer while the ceiling dripped rain. And George Hazard with his dry wit and quick smile. 


I will admit to saying when I left after 20 years all I had to show was a box full of mementos out of my desk, but I grew up there and made many, many friends and memories to last a lifetime. For which I'm thankful. 




Donna, thanks for sharing those memories. And cousin Al (Al's grandmother Lucy and my grandfather Blanch were two of the 10 offspring of D.S. and Jontie McClanahan.), apologies for the oversight and belated congratulations for your well-deserved recognition. 



Birney Imes III is the immediate past publisher of The Dispatch.


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