Thursday, January 15, 2009
A newspaper, like any business, is only as good as its employees. One of those I was fortunate to have for seven years at The South Reporter was Fred DeBardeleben.
When I arrived in Holly Springs as editor and publisher of the newspaper, I was about to turn 40. He was near 70.
To me, he was Mr. Fred.
The respect was mutual - despite the age difference.
Wednesday afternoon, I was honored to serve as a pallbearer during a graveside service for Mr. Fred at Hill Crest Cemetery.
A chilly wind was blowing. His brother Jim delivered an outstanding eulogy. I said I wasn’t going to cry, but I couldn’t help it. I had to take off my glasses and wipe away a few tears.
My thoughts, as I stood beside the casket, turned to my special memories of Mr. Fred.
Like myself, he loved the Atlanta Braves.
He watched the Braves almost daily on TV, unless they were playing on the West Coast (the starting time being after Mr. Fred’s bedtime).
And the next day we would talk about the previous night’s game - from John Smoltz’ pitching performance to Chipper Jones’ home runs and Andruw Jones’ spectacular catches out in center field.
Mr. Fred still used pencils.
He had them in a pencil holder on his desk, right beside the only pencil sharpener in The South Reporter building.
The supplies came in handy for our children, too. They often walked in after school and needed either a pencil, a sharpener or both to do their homework.
Mr. Fred was dedicated to his customers - the people he called on weekly as an advertising sales representative – more so than anyone I’ve ever worked with at any newspaper.
As his health declined in the last few years, there were times I know he didn’t really feel like getting out of the office and driving to see his customers. But he went anyway. He was focused on meeting their needs and helping their businesses grow.
They were his customers, but even more so, they were his friends.
He was a very smart man.
He had a keen business mind, having owned and operated Ben Franklin Stores for many years.
I’m not stupid. I’d often ask Mr. Fred’s advice on business decisions here at The South Reporter. I’ve missed that advice since his retirement last April, and I will continue to miss it.
If we had to multiply, add or subtract numbers here at the newspaper office, as it related to advertising, we simply asked Mr. Fred. He was faster than any calculator. It was amazing.
Mr. Fred was obviously a hard worker.
I went through a period, not long after taking the publisher’s job, when I didn’t have a driver to run a newspaper delivery route on Wednesdays. So I did it myself - with Mr. Fred volunteering to ride along to help.
I often urged him to just handle the money part, and he listened at maybe a stop or two. But he’d still help lift those bundles of newspapers.
I was 30 years younger in age, and he taught me a lesson or two in work ethic. Plus, I learned a lot just from driving the van and listening to Mr. Fred talk about a variety of topics. He was one of the wisest men I’ve ever been around.
Lots of folks thought Mr. Fred, in his old age, was a grumpy old man. I saw that side myself.
But trust me, underneath that tough skin was a good man with a kind heart.
We lost a beloved member of The South Reporter family last week. He worked here for 13 years, six of those under former publisher Walter Webb.
His contributions to this newspaper and our lives will be with us forever.
And we’re going to keep those pencils and that sharpener on the front desk.
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