Maybe I have been around a long time

“I ain’t old, but I’ve been around a long time.
Long enough to know that age is just a state of mind.”

 — Song lyrics by Delbert McClinton

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“Ask Leon, he probably knew him.”

That insinuation by Texas Press Association Executive Director, Mike Hodges was a humorous jab suggesting that I had been around the newspaper industry for a long time. It was offered in response to a serious question posed at the North and East Texas Press Association’s convention in Nacogdoches last weekend. Was anyone still living who may have known Texas newspaper publisher Sam C. Holloway who worked in the trade during the early part of the 19th century?

The Holloway Award is presented annually in his memory by the state’s regional press association to an “outstanding NETPA member and journalist who has gone above and beyond the call of duty in support of the association while upholding high standards of journalistic integrity and service to the community.”

Holloway was born in 1888 and bought his first newspaper, the Deport Times, in 1912. Shortly after, during the 1930s oil boom in northern Titus County, he established newspapers in Talco and Bogata. Holloway was one of the founding members of the NETPA in 1926 and served as its second president in 1927. The first Holloway Award was presented to its namesake at the 1958 convention in Tyler.

In keeping with the spirit of the conversation at last weekend’s gathering, I countered Mike’s question with, “I remember him, but I was just a cub reporter.”

The exchange was fun, but it evoked a weighty reflection on my time in the business. Also made me wonder how many conventions I have attended since I was, well … a cub reporter.

I entered journalism in a back-door fashion through the front door of The Monitor in Naples when Morris Craig, aka “Craig,” offered me a job as a photographer. It was supposed to be temporary “until I found something else.” Journalism wasn’t my first career path choice.

We all know now how that worked out.

I had been a newspaper employee just long enough to learn how to spell journalism when Craig sent me up to Sherman to accept NETPA awards for his newspaper at the association’s 1976 convention.

The Monitor had earned a wall of plaques and awards dating before Craig’s time which started in 1956. But while Craig produced a newspaper worthy of accolades, attending the conventions to collect acclaim was not his cup of printer’s coffee.

So, I showed up at my first newspaper convention 47 years ago sporting a new light blue leisure suit and a tie wide enough to lease out for billboard space. It was also my first time meeting seasoned newspaper veterans that I would not only come to consider mentors for journalism “done the right way,” but also as longtime friends.

People like Roy Eaton at Decatur, Bob Hamilton at Iowa Park, John Crawford at Dennison, Jerry Tidwell at Granbury, Harlan Bridwell at Bridgeport, Dick White from Pittsburg, and others whose names will come to me. Right after this piece goes to press.

That first stint at the Monitor was followed by doing time at the Many, La., Sabine News for Lloyd Grissom, who, at the time, owned the East Texas Light. Purely by fate, I wound up in Center a couple of years later when Jim Chionsini was the new owner of that Shelby County publication. He took me down a new path of publishing where, along the way, we merged the Light with the Center Champion in 1983. And that was the beginning of today’s Light and Champion, and the office from where I am penning this piece in 2023.

But connecting those dots was not a straight line. Far from it.

In the late 90s, teaching journalism at Stephen F. Austin State University beckoned before I returned to ink and newsprint as editor and publisher in Hill Country burg of Boerne and later in Marlin. Working the second time with Jim C. Then it was back to The Monitor as owner, editor, publisher, window washer and janitor.

I was grateful the Monitor building had only one small window,

During those years, I served as president of NETPA twice, one of only two people to do so; my friend Jim Bardwell being the other. My first time was in 1986 while at the Light and Champion and again in 2002 at The Monitor.

After that, the road detoured to the other side of the communication desk in marketing positions before circling back to newspapers a few years ago splitting time between Center and at the Tribune in Mount Pleasant. My third time partnering with Jim Chionsini.

Two years ago, I returned to the Light and Champion in Center for “one more time.” This appearance, carrying the banner of Moser Community Media.

Whew! I think the Aldridge “Lifetime Newspaper Tour” needs a tee shirt.

Still smiling last weekend at Mike’s suggestion that I had been around a long time, I glanced around the room. There was Jim Bardwell from Gladewater. Phil Major from Mineola, Candice Velvin, now serving with the Texas Press Association in Austin. And Mike Hodges, the one who got me to thinking about all this history with his suggestion of my having been around a long time. He’s been around for much of that time himself.

That’s when the sobering realization soaked in. We were now the “seasoned ones.” We were filling the shadows of those I remembered from Sherman almost 50 years ago, trying to “do journalism the right way.”

No, I wasn’t around when Sam Holloway printed the news in Northeast Texas. He passed away in 1960. But I was honored by NETPA in 1999 with the award that bears his name. Still not sure I deserved it, but I was humbled that my colleagues in the profession thought so.

Maybe that’s why I’m still doing it and trying to do it the right way. And maybe that’s what Delbert McClinton meant in his song.

“If there’s a secret to life that I’ve ever found,
It’s all about staying in the here and now. 
I ain’t old, but I’ve been around a long time.”

— Leon Aldridge

(Photo at top of page — 1976 Monitor newspaper clipping picturing the plaque awarded the Naples newspaper that year for feature stories and the much younger version of the “cub reporter” who traveled to Sherman to accept it. The clipping overlays the actual 47-year-old award. When Morris Craig closed the newspaper office on Main Street in town that had been home to the The Monitor since the mid-70s and moved the operation to his house, he gifted me with with the plaque that had hung on the wall of the newspaper entry foyer since 1976. Morris and Melba Craig, still publish the newspaper that started the Craig family’s newspaper career in 1956, then owned by Lee Narramore. Still a family operation, they are today aided by family members Dylan, Andrea , Denise, Jeremy, Sam, and Mike.)

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Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, the Alpine Avalanche, The Fort Stockton Pioneer, and The Monitor in Naples.

© Leon Aldridge and A Story Worth Telling 2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided full and clear credit is given to Leon Aldridge and ‘A Story Worth Telling’ with appropriate and specific directions to the original content.

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