Birney Imes: When ink gets in your blood

March 16, 2013 9:59:01 PM

Birney Imes - [email protected]


A word of advice: When the revolution comes, make sure Tina Perry is on your side. In the meantime, I'm glad she's on ours. This past week Tina hardly had time to note the passing of her 30th anniversary at The Dispatch. There was, after all, a paper to get out. 


As pre-press manager, Tina's department is the funnel through which all news, advertising and classified copy passes on its way to press. She and her cohort, Anne Murphy, transform computer files to the metal plates our pressmen attach to our rumbling Goss Urbanite in The Dispatch basement. 


When there is a technical problem to solve, Tina is the solution. Since I've been at the paper we've gone through half a dozen "upgrades," all of which required learning new software, computers and making them work together. I don't know how we would have done any of it without Tina. 


"I always enjoyed watching my dad," she explained, when asked about her preternatural ability to figure things out. "He could do anything: electrical, carpentry, plumbing, car repair. I guess a little of it filtered into me." 


Yeah, like Stan Musial played catch with his dad as a child and then says a little of his father's baseball skills rubbed off on him. 


Spending her working life in front of a computer wasn't exactly Tina's plan. After graduating from Lee High in 1982, she went to work as a sales clerk at Woolco in Gateway Shopping Center. That lasted five or six months. She hated it. She interviewed at The Dispatch with then-production manager Stan Hayes, who hired her. She was going to work a couple years then go to college. Problem was, she liked newspaper work. 


"It's almost like the ink gets in your blood," Tina says. "You get used to the daily deadlines -- there's always something going on. I think I'd be bored doing something else." 


Ask Tina for help with a problem and you can count on her solving it. If she doesn't know how to do what you ask, you'll never know it. Tina will figure it out. 


"What is it about newspaper people?" I asked her.  


"They're different, but I don't know how to explain it. Different in a good way." She laughed. After all, she is one. 


We are different, though like Tina, I don't know if I could say just how. We're curious, love a good story and the outlandish characters responsible for them. We understand and appreciate human foibles, especially our own. We're all facing the same deadlines. 


Like Tina, most of us would be bored elsewhere.  


When asked to name the most memorable characters she's worked with, she says there were hundreds. Then she names Mike Butler, who was never without a joke, Sandra Moore and George Hazard, who she remembers being in a phone conversation when his desk chair collapsed. 


"He just lay there on the floor and finished his conversation," she said laughing. 


The memories crowd each other out. 


"Something happened my first day. I don't remember what it was, but we were late. I remember the space shuttle blowing up and when the fireworks plant in New Hope blew up." 


Not a lot of time for reflection; there's another paper to get out. Unless something blows up, it's mostly just a lovely blur. 


Lois Bryant died this past week after a long illness. Lois was one of the hundreds Tina worked with. With her raspy voice and sardonic sense of humor, Lois was in her element here. We used to joke with Lois that she was the inspiration for Crabby Road, the comic strip featuring a wisecracking woman in her 70s. 


Sometime during the course of a workday, Lois told Tina she'd met Elvis. "She said she was pregnant at the time and Elvis held the door open for her," Tina said. 


On a Friday afternoon in 2001, straight-line winds ripped through Columbus. Some people were without power for two weeks. We worked Friday night and all day Saturday to get out a Sunday paper with a jury-rigged set of fluorescent lights, computer system and phones powered by a gasoline generator.  


Someone took a picture of our setup, which we used in a full-page ad we ran in a special edition printed later. We have the ad framed and hanging in a hallway leading to the newsroom. Under the six-column photograph is the headline "Clutch Hitters." 


In the picture, Chan Davis and City Editor Bill West confer in a room cluttered with computers. In the background, Dianne Medley looks through a filing cabinet.  


At the center of it all, a woman wearing a sweatshirt and blue jeans walks toward the camera. That's Tina, making it all work, getting out the paper. Fighting another deadline.  


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