THINKING OUT LOUD

I was thinking about the late Rose Leo again last week. The obituary I heard on the radio some time ago did not mention a cause of death, but I'm thinking it was probably old age. She was 108. And she did have one affliction that I am extremely familiar with: She was a newspaper columnist until the day she died.
Norwalk Reflector Staff
Jul 24, 2010

I was thinking about the late Rose Leo again last week. The obituary I heard on the radio some time ago did not mention a cause of death, but I'm thinking it was probably old age. She was 108.

And she did have one affliction that I am extremely familiar with: She was a newspaper columnist until the day she died.

In fact, the newspaper for which Leo wrote, the "Flint Hills Express" in Kansas, published her final, farewell column the week after her passing. She was thought to be the nation's oldest working journalist. That pretty much tells you what a nasty addiction a newspaper column can be. Rose Leo wrote her first story (about a hanging tree in a place called Dead Man's Gulch) when she was a teenager. And she wrote her last one almost a century later. To a lay person, I suppose, it is all simply inspirational: a woman found something she loved, and she never stopped doing it. But to someone who is likewise addicted to a newspaper column to the never ending search for ideas that might be of interest to someone folding the newspaper to page four every Monday it is pretty scary.

Consider: On the outside chance that I, too, reach 108 years of age, I will still need almost 50 more years' worth of material 2,500 more columns. Oh man.

On the other hand, the past 38 years of pecking out stories for this newspaper have fairly flown by.

It was August of 1969 that I first idled into the Reflector parking lot (in my 1966 Olds 88) with a story I had written (and typed on my new Smith-Corona portable electric typewriter).

I tried the front door, but it was after hours. So I dropped the story through the slot in the side door.

The next day Jack Brown's raspy voice was on my telephone offering me a position as Wakeman correspondent.

As I later found out, that was a euphemism for The Bottom of The Journalistic Barrel. But I didn't care. I loved it: Going to council meetings and trustees' meetings and school board meetings, taking pictures of knee-high corn on July 4 and of a new roof going on the firehouse. And then seeing it all published in the newspaper. Big stuff.

As I later found out, that was a euphemism for The Bottom of The Journalistic Barrel. But I didn't care. I loved it: Going to council meetings and trustees' meetings and school board meetings, taking pictures of knee-high corn on July 4 and of a new roof going on the firehouse. And then seeing it all published in the newspaper. Big stuff.

That evolved into covering high school games on the weekends.

And then I got the idea for this column.

It's a good thing an idea like that does not come with foreknowledge of the next 30 years. Otherwise, it would be too intimidating for anyone to ever start.

("You mean I am going to need over a thousand column ideas? Even when Wayne Goodsite or Louie Frey is no longer mayor? Even when all I can think of involves putting a beer can inside a raw chicken? Boy, I don't know about that...")

That's why thoughts of living as long as Rose Leo send shivers down the spine of the middle-aged newspaper columnist. I DO know what it would mean to write columns for another 50 years or so. And I can't imagine it.

Unless, of course, I could develop the same sweet outlook as Leo.

"I find that the older I get," she said, "I am more aware of the brightness of everything. I look for beauty, adventure, discovery and push for increasing knowledge that awakens me to achieve."

Gee, who wouldn't want that?

But I'm pretty sure another thing she said is what gets to the heart of the newspaper column addiction.

"I like to write," she said simply. "If I can't write and if I can't think, I don't want to be here."

I'm with you, Rose.