My last name was Harsdorff when I went to work at The Advocate in 1970. I looked at the job as a learning opportunity, and my plan was to work there a year or so and then return to teaching.
Although Publisher Morris Roberts thought it was time to hire a female news reporter, his managing editor Jim Rech cautioned me I could meet with some resistance from the all-male staff. That being said, we agreed to a six-month trial period.
My Uncle Fritz, a news editor in New Orleans, told me it wasn’t too late to change my mind. Newspapers don’t pay, lead to alcoholism and can be habit forming, he warned.
I vividly remember my first day at work. Right off the bat, someone commented he thought women belonged in the kitchen.
I found that I wasn’t totally alone. There were female proofreaders and there was the Women’s Department. Marge Alkek, librarian and Rech’s secretary, gave me a warm welcome.
I was reintroduced to the manual typewriter, and photographer Bob Roberts insisted I learn to use the old Graflex press camera, something he lived to regret since I quickly proved to be untrainable.
Assistant Editor Tom Fite gave me a rundown of my responsibilities. I also received encouragement from Editorial Page Editor Roy Grimes, whose knowledge of area history was astonishing.
“Did you have an ancestor who was hanged and was he married to the infamous Sally Scull?” he asked.
“Yes and no,” I stammered, shocked that he knew about them.
Jim O’Brien, Henry Wolff, Jimmy Simons, Bruce Patton, Vince Reedy, Pat Witte and Del Girt rounded out the gang. Theirs was the daily grind of keeping the public informed. Little news was left untouched right down to how many gallons of water the fire department used.
I was to have many memorable experiences as a reporter. One was the 1975 Longhorn stampede in Goliad. Within a split second all hell broke loose and some 100 steers went into a rampage. I ran into the street and was just about to shoot a photo of the oncoming herd when someone grabbed me from behind. I landed on my back in the grass looking up at a very angry Irish priest that I had known from my hometown of Woodsboro.
“Have you no sense girl?” Father Gregory Dean yelled at me.
There was a crowd of onlookers, and I know my face was beet red.
One incident propelled me to request a change in The Advocate’s dress code for female employees. At the time slacks were not allowed. Sent to get results at a youth rodeo, I had to climb a 15-foot ladder up to the judge’s stand, and I was wearing a short-skirted dress and heels. No way was that going to happen!
Much bigger changes were soon to follow. The paper adopted the smaller tabloid size and computers came along. Soon other women were added to the staff. Marsha Moulder, Liz Conner, and present-day Advocate Managing Editor Becky Cooper were among the first.
That trial period of mine lasted 20 years. Along the way I interviewed people from all walks of life; such as the widow of a Confederate veteran, a dying child who broke my heart, a con man promoting a film based on a local attorney’s novel, Western novelist Elmer Kelton, Gov. George Wallace of Alabama, Willie Nelson, Luciano Pavarotti, Charlton Heston and former President George W. Bush before he ran for governor.
Looking back, those early years were golden. I was lucky to have worked with those good ole boys when The Advocate ran on hot metal and hummed to the tune of Linotype and newswire machines. Only three of them survive. Just last year Wolff, known for his column “Henry’s Journal,” died and I felt like I had lost a brother. I miss him very much. Truth be told, I miss them all.