Today the News-Times says farewell to a very talented, loyal and hard-working employee – (Floyd) Vernon Thompson, who died earlier this week. His passing is a blow to his co-workers at the News-Times and the many friends he and his late wife Sarita Bedsworth garnered over the past half century. But it is also worth noting for the professional legacy he leaves behind.
In many ways Vernon represented the very essence of the newspaper industry when it was the scene of hard charging reporters always working against a deadline established by, oftentimes cantankerous compositors and pressmen intent on getting the finished product on the street. It was a time tension filled the air from the moment reporters began filing stories to eight to twelve hours later as the last copy left the press for the newspaper carriers.
Vernon entered the newspaper publishing business just as the printing industry was changing from hot type (a name that derived from the use of smelted lead to make the slugs used to emboss ink on paper) to cold type, a precursor of computerization. Growing up in the textile mill region of piedmont North Carolina, Vernon was no stranger to hard work and he possessed skills to operate very complicated and expensive machinery. He found his way to Morehead City and the News-Times after learning the printing trade. The paper was in need of a typesetter, someone who could operate, fix and basically cajole Linotype and Ludlow machines to cast the lead type for the paper’s 8-page Hoe flatbed press.
When he wasn’t typesetting, running the press or taking papers to carriers he was fishing or scuba diving. For many years he utilized his noted skill with hook and line, reporting on the fishing news in the county with his weekly column Reel Speel.
Shortly after arriving in Morehead City, Sarita Bedsworth , ironically a member of a noted Morehead City fishing family, caught his eye and shortly thereafter the young married couple settled down to make a home in Atlantic Beach raising their two children, Craig and Christi (Piner).
Vernon is the last of a fraternity of typographers and journeymen who learned a trade and spent their lives perfecting it. Despite having only one eye due to a childhood accident, Vernon was able to read a frame of lead type that was upside down and wrong-reading as fast as if he were reading the printed page. The type had to be a mirror image of the printed product since it would be printing directly to a sheet of paper, thereby allowing the copy to be right-reading as the image was transferred to the page.
As the technology changed from hot type to computer generated production, Vernon willingly accommodated the changes taking on more responsibilities and eventually becoming the newspaper’s first production manager.
Over the years the News-Times has enjoyed a special relationship with a unique group of talented newspaper men and women. Among them Wilson Davis- typographer and pressroom foreman; Bill Horton, who in addition to being the head pressman, was an itinerant preacher and long-time Mayor of Morehead City; Mike McGowan, Linotype operator; Ruth Peeling Barbour, one of the first female newspaper editors in the state whose success as the primary reporter for many years resulted in state and national press awards covering the walls of the newspaper, and who, in her spare time wrote several books and plays, working tirelessly to save the Carteret Community Theatre; Alease Russell whose self-taught skill as a bookkeeper amazed auditors; George Hall and Martha Montgomery who sold advertising to keep the paper afloat in the difficult times; and Ellen Mason whose bright face and loud hello greeted customers who called or stopped in at the office.
There are many who we could name. But this list is special because they represent a generation of professionals who enjoyed a unique experience that will never be seen again
Vernon will always stand out for all of us here at the News-Times. There was never a job he wouldn’t accept. Always early to arrive and last to leave, he was a perfectionist though he’d never admit it. His intelligence, hard work, loyalty and commitment to never leave a job incomplete were his trademarks. And though he could never accept anything but perfection from himself he was always willing to accept the failings of others as long as he knew they gave their very best.
Vernon represents the passing of a glorious period in the trade of newspapering, which has and is undergoing significant changes. The days when the terms ‘Em,’ ‘Pica’ and ‘kerning’ were common in the press room- when a chase of type was pied so that the lead would be sent to the smelter to be turned into pigs which would once again show up on the hook of Vernon’s linotype - those days are past. But our industry will remain strong and vibrant; not only because it is needed but also because of people such as Vernon who brought vibrancy, value and persistence to an industry and a community.
In keeping with the journalistic tradition we conclude this editorial and Vernon Thompson’s story with the reporter’s short hand for the end………….