November 13, 2014
I’ve been on a binge.
Nooo ... Not that kind of binge, a cleaning binge, and it’s way overdue. My spare room (formerly my office) has turned into a quagmire of unused stuff. I was sorting through a large manila envelope of records and correspondence the other day and was about to throw away its contents without looking when something tugged at me to at least make sure there was nothing of importance about to be discarded.
Inside the envelope I found a legal size envelope addressed to me in the late John Tucker, Jr.’s handwriting with the return address of Focus Newspaper. Seeing my name written in his hand brought back so many fond memories of my time of employment under his wing. I held it for a moment just looking at his penmanship. I certainly was fond of that guy. And, I still am! He taught me more in five years than I could have learned in a lifetime of hours in a newsroom.
Tucker & Sara Mawyer, hard at work in the 1980s
Slowly I began to remember how this envelope and its contents came to be in my possession. One day way, way back in 1997, Tucker called to say he had received an envelope with a note attached, asking that he pass it on to me. “Do you want me to send it to you?” he asked. “Geesh,” I thought, “there is no telling what might be sealed inside.” Believe me, I encountered many interesting situations and people while on staff at the paper. I said, “Yeah, sure, send it my way.”
The next day the letter arrived, sealed and untouched, within Tucker’s envelope. I had not been a full time member of the Focus staff for 7 years when I got this piece of correspondence and now, years later, I’ve rediscovered it.
Allow me, dear readers, to share this item with you. It bears witness to what is now a long history of the paper and my employment there. The person who sent this letter had mailed it to Focus with a note dated March 13, 1997. “Dear Sirs,” it said, “This envelope contains a note of thanks for Ms. Sara Mawyer, former editor of Focus, following her excellent 20th anniversary column in last week’s issue. Would you please forward this on to Ms. Mawyer, it would be most appreciated. (For the record, Father Tucker, as he was sometimes known, was the only “sir” to ever grace the place.)
I opened the letter and began to read:
Relax, this isn’t one of ‘those’ type letters, the kind most ladies dread the thought of. True, I haven’t signed my name because you wouldn’t know who I am anyway. Instead Sara, I am complimenting you for your recent column which appeared in Focus. Your writing about events and policies of the paper during the past 20 years brought back a lot of memories for me. Granted the typical male Focus reader probably isn’t the most likely person to put his thoughts on paper, therefore, I probably speak for quite a few others also.
Focus has been sort of “required” reading” for me almost from the first issue. Along with the Wall Street Journal, Barrons, The Charlotte Business Journal and even a couple of high brow locally grown newspapers, I pick up a copy of what a Hickory Daily Record columnist once called ‘that little sucker’ every week.
Early editions of the paper remain a favorite with me. Certainly you remember the sniping and quarreling publisher John Tucker carried on with Charles Deal, owner of the Hickory News shortly after starting Focus. For a while they were more fun than any comic strip. If you recall Focus during the early days published what were supposedly long letters from readers. Those things were a riot also. One letter I remember very well was from some woman who was all over the case of a man with whom she had ended a long term relationship. She began running down his pickup truck. Plus, his scraping every morsel of food from the plate while dining out was raked over. Eating then sex, more sex, followed by eating, she went on. Finally, she railed about his dressing habits. A plastic-coated white belt, inside pants so tight everyone could make out the outline of his (insert word here), she added!
During the past 15 years or so I have noticed few changes within the paper itself, aside from the addition of more advertising. I subscribe to a couple of “alternative” publications similar to Focus from other areas of North Carolina. The Independent based in the Durham - Chapel Hill section is one. Quite frankly, after reading that paper with its heavy editorial style I wonder how Tucker has survived, thrived even, with such a limited writing staff. As the saying goes “it’s hard to argue with success” obviously he must be doing something correctly.
You mentioned now keeping your legs covered with worn blue jeans. Sara, what a shame! That story brought a smile to my face when I remembered something from the past. No doubt you have erased this from your memory, however, back during the early 1980’s you wrote of the difficulty you were having while walking along the then newly paved with brick sidewalks of Union Plaza. Seems your high heels were sinking into the cracks making every step a new adventure. You asked if perhaps something could be done about the situation. As so happened a few days later I was walking past the Carolina Theater where a tall, most attractive blonde stepped onto the sidewalk a few feet in front of me. We continued on until she entered Focus “Towers,” I, all the while admiring what had to be the most attractive set of “wheels” I had seen in ages. That must be Sara Mawyer I remember thinking to myself. Without knowing it you made my day. Terry Presnell, the ex Focus staffer who later turned up at the Hickory News, ran a survey before he left town. He asked for nominations from his infamous “lettuce awards” days for great men around Hickory. Those lettuce awards were some silliness I never understood, nevertheless, I nominated John Tucker, then listed his qualifications. For some reason that wasn’t mentioned again.
In closing, I’ll say I can’t help wondering where the past 20 years have gone so quickly. You probably at times feel somewhat the same. With the passage of another 20 people our age we’ll be looking at, well, the end of the road I suppose. So far it’s been a hell of a ride. Sara, again, I appreciate your bringing a little freshness and a lot of joy into what can sometimes be a pretty dull town.
Best of luck to both yourself and your family during the coming years.
Well, Mr. Anonymous, whoever you are, I certainly did appreciate your letter. It was a nice little recap of the newspaper’s history. It’s 17 years later since I received it and, GADS, I certainly hope I’m not looking at the end of the road. I distinctly remember the column I wrote about getting my high heels stuck in the cracks between the brick in the sidewalks, as I spent a good portion of my time with bloodied knees from having tripped and fallen because of it. And, well, if you are still reading Focus, I really hate to break this to you but I have never been tall, nor blonde. That woman you saw walking into Focus wasn’t me. There were, however, a couple of very lovely young ladies who worked there who were blondes. I stand at 5 feet, 2 inches and my hair is auburn (most of the time).
Seven years after receiving this letter Tucker passed away. One of his greatest qualities was allowing his staff to be creative without tight editorial control. Sometimes we were a raucous bunch and he would reign us in by walking through the building loudly telling us to break up the Tupperware party. He was a smart-witted individual with a vision that was far ahead of his time. As years go by, I still dip my pen in ink and contribute a literary piece here and there.
On the way out of the building on my last official day in 1990 I dedicated a piece of my soul to Tucker’s magical mystery tour. I am sure Tucker would have enjoyed reading your letter. I never shared it with him while he was alive but I am certain he’s going to know about it. He still hovers about. His presence at Focus is palpable and the scent of his cigar lingers in the air.
Thank you very much for your kind compliments on my literary accomplishments. I owe it all to the influence of Focus and the freedom to let my freak flag fly.
So, Mr. Anonymous, if you don’t mind, I’ll be dedicating this one to the memory of the man who made it all happen, Mr. John E. Tucker, Jr., and in honor of his beloved wife and current publisher, Tammy Panther who continues to carry the torch in a sublime manner.
Wishing all my readers peace, love, and happiness always!