He may have said them with tongue firmly cheek-implanted, but the late Will Rogers’ gentle observations of the world made the medicines of life go down smoother. Many of his drawls--in print or in person--included this observation: “All I know is what I read in the papers.”
Rogers--like the rest of us--now would be hard pressed to properly attribute “all we know,” or, better stated, what we think we know. Better he lived when he did. Social media and other instant communications have weakened commitment to proper attribution.
Could it be this is what has happened to our screaming world? Maybe attribution has become too much trouble, and truth at its core is hard to find among avalanches of words that aren’t.
What a privilege has been mine to know some newspaper figures committed to truth and “settled in to serve” in editors’ roles. Seasoned editors--almost without exception--first were seasoned reporters. And the late Wacil McNair, editor of the Snyder Daily News for a quarter-century, was so seasoned.
He and two-of-his-three brothers -- all graduates of Hardin-Simmons University -- became journalists.
“Wacil stories” still abound in Snyder, despite the passing of three decades since he served there. Readers greatly respected this journalist who sought the truth, defending it both in print and in person. Friends noticed he always first cleared his throat when conversing, perhaps buying a few more seconds to make correct word choices.
Though mild-mannered, there were points beyond which he wouldn’t budge. And, like Rogers, he often relied on humor to reduce tensions.
Sometimes it meant defending reporters. One day, an oil field roughneck took umbrage to an SDN story written by a fledgling reporter, fresh from journalism school. He phoned Wacil, indicating he was en route to the newspaper to “’whup up’ on that no-account writer who got it all wrong. And if I have any ‘whup’ left, I’ll take you on, too,” the roughneck threatened.
Wacil--agreeing that he and the young reporter likely would be easy prey for being “whupped up” on--told the guy if he’d come on down to the newspaper office, it could result in a fine headline for the next edition. Huh?
“Roughneck Whups Up on Skinny College Grad.” That’s the headline Wacil foresaw. His problem diffused, the roughneck broke into laughter, forgoing “whupping up” that day..
Then publisher Roy McQueen threw a retirement dinner for Wacil prior to his move back to Gilmer, where his weekly column appeared weekly in the Mirror during his retirement.
Tributes abounded at the dinner. One of the highest compliments came from Bill J. Hood, late superintendent of schools in Snyder.
“We’ll miss Wacil,” he drawled. “In fact, our board secretary will have to go to work. Wacil has covered all of our monthly meetings so well that we’ve been careful not to write up the minutes until after the paper comes out the next day.”
Wacil looked for the best in every situation, and his stories were slanted that way. Oh, he never described snow as being whiter than it was, but his bent was to take the high road whenever one could be found.
Speaking of snow, Dallas’ colorful Blackie Sherrod--as good a writer as ever wielded a pen-- once said someone was “as pure as driven slush.”
Wacil, though, might have reasoned that slush started out as white. He might have added that snow likely would come this way again, glistening in purity. And, when flakes fell this time, they’d float down, coating the limbs of trees, far above slush formations below.
McNair adhered to the admonition of Lord Byron. The British poet penned a line journalists do well taking to heart. “Without or with offense to friends or foes, I sketch your world exactly as it goes.”
The Snyder editor did just that--with fairness and honesty toward all, but always with a smile. It wasn’t in him to yield to temptations he no doubt sometimes confronted, when he might have preferred to write--or say--what he really thought!
When critical situations came up, Snyder folks could count on Wacil to keep roughnecks--and other occasional critics--at bay.
Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: www.speakerdoc.com. Columns archived at venturegalleries.com, newbury blog.