I’m one of the lucky ones.
After writing a story about tadpoles in second grade for my elementary newspaper, I was bitten by the writing bug and I never wavered from that pathway. All I’ve ever wanted to be was a writer.
In the spring of 1976, I had just been named editor-in-chief of the Ocean Springs High School newspaper, The Hound’s Tale, for the 1976-77 school year – my senior year of high school. A reporter from The Mississippi Press, Linda Skupien, came to our newspaper class seeking a receptionist/writer for the Ocean Springs bureau of The Mississippi Press after school. Of course, I jumped at the chance and quickly became part of the newspaper where I stayed for the next 28 years.
In those early days, we used manual typewriters, clicking and clacking away on pieces of newsprint which were put in large envelopes and driven to the main office in Pascagoula each afternoon for the next day’s edition. Once my first bosses, Betty Milsted and Linda Skupien, and later, Carole B. Williams, realized I had a nose for news, they increased my responsibilities from rewriting copy to doing more in-depth stories. Another mentor, Coastlines Editor Judy Johnson, taught me how to write leads that would reach out and grab the readers’ attention.
One of my first stories was covering an automobile accident with injuries in the early morning hours with the Mississippi Highway Patrol. After getting the information for the story, I had to find a pay phone (phone booths, remember those?) so I could dictate my story to a typesetter in Pascagoula. I had to write the story in my head so I could just rattle it off to the typesetter.
Eventually, we did get our first computer in the Ocean Springs bureau so we could send stories by inserting the handle of a telephone into the top of the computer. The screen was so small, one could only see three or four sentences at a time, but it was better than getting into a car and making the drive to Pascagoula.
Our editor, Gary Holland, who I loved dearly, would hold monthly meetings so everyone from the Ocean Springs bureau and Lucedale bureau could come together with the Pascagoula reporters for meetings. We called him “Chief’ and he called his female reporters “Sunshine.” That’s where I met a group of tenacious news hounds – Don Broadus, Tom Donnelly, Gloria Moore and Ann Peck, who were hard-hitting reporters, each with a vast network of sources in order to get the scoop on everything going on in our county, both good and bad. When you walked into the newsroom, a cloud of nicotine and smoke hit you squarely in the face.
Eventually, I worked my way to the Pascagoula office into the Coastlines Department (feature stories, weddings, engagements, club meetings, etc.) Ultimately, I ended up being the Education and Religion reporter and wrote feature stories for the Coastlines Department.
I absolutely loved my job – all the people I worked with, each with his/her own quirky sense of humor – the many people I met who came to bring us their news to publish – the sounds and the smells of the presses as they cranked up each day. I never tired of going to the back shop to watch the presses run every chance I could. It was here at The Mississippi Press where I learned to grind out story after story against pressing deadlines, and I loved every minute of it.
There were two news stories I covered that made a profound impact in my life. I was assigned to cover a story on a young elementary student who tragically lost his life in a swing accident at the Pascagoula Yacht Club. I had never done a story like this before and to say I was anxious is an understatement. He was a student at Resurrection Catholic Elementary School, and I called to ask the principal, Elizabeth Benefield, if I might come by to get a few quotes from her. As expected, it was a very emotional interview.
As I was leaving, the little boy’s parents were walking into the school. They looked utterly devastated, and I couldn’t bring myself to even ask them a single question because I was still so choked up over my interview, and I didn’t want to impose on their obvious grief. Some reporter I turned out to be, huh?
I went back to the office to write the story, detouring to the restroom to have a good cry and then pulled myself together so I could write the story. I called the principal back to ask her another question later in the day, and she told me the parents went to their son’s class to check on his classmates, talk with them, and make sure they were ok. What wonderful parents to put their own grief aside to check on their son’s classmates!
Not only did I write a heartfelt story, but I also wrote an editorial on this sweet little boy and his family. Later, his parents reached out to me to thank me for this tribute to their son. That’s been more than 25 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. That’s the power of the printed word.
The second most profound experience was covering the day the terrorists attacked our country – Sept. 11, 2001. We had just put the paper on the presses when our newsroom television set started broadcasting the videos of the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center. We stopped the presses and were glued to the television in our newsroom as we watched the tragedy unfold with the twin towers collapsing one after another. I experienced utter fear and a sense of disbelief at what I was watching. We tore up the front page and reset it as photos and copy started coming in from the Associated Press.
After the initial shock, our editor Dan Davis started giving out assignments, and we all got busy doing what we were meant to do – put our personal feelings aside and cover the event to get the word into the hands of our readers as quickly and accurately as possible. I still have a copy of that newspaper from Sept. 11, 2001.
Fast forward to 2002 and the rumblings of newspapers taking a downward turn caused me to start thinking about a new career which I found in the Pascagoula-Gautier School District, one of the school districts I had covered as a reporter. When former Supt. Hank Bounds called, I took a leap of faith and left the only job I had ever known. It was scary and a choice I thought I would never have to make, but one I will never regret.
I’ve only had two jobs in my 48-year career – The Mississippi Press and where I currently work – as director of communications for the Pascagoula-Gautier School District for the past 20 years. The people at The Mississippi Press are my family. When we gathered together for Gary Holland’s funeral in 2018, it was like we had never been apart. We picked up right where we left off, even though we hadn’t seen each other in years. We’ve weathered many a storm together (literally), but I wouldn’t trade those experiences for all the money in the world. (None of us did it for the money.) We did it because we had a lead to follow and a great story to tell.
I’ve had three wonderful bosses at The Mississippi Press – Gary Holland, Dan Davis and Steve Cox. I worked with great reporters like Rob Holbert, Natalie Chamber Nettles, Nancy Jo Maples, Brad Crocker, Donna Manning Campbell, Regina Hines, John Surratt, Mary Lett, Bonnie Barnum Boyd, Susan Ruddiman, Joanne Anderson, Judy Johnson, Amanda Stegenga Hunter; stellar sports writers like the M&M team of Mike Wixon and Mark Bryant, Curtis Rockwell, Creg Stephenson and Tom Warner; wonderful photographers – Jerry Moulder, Carol Waddell, Bill Starling, Bill Colgin, Kelly Boyd, Christy Pritchett, Jamey Bates, and Anna Raiola; eagle-eyed proof readers like Katie Stewart and Beverly Tuskan; those who did page layout like Walter Skupien and Chuck Brooks; our other co-workers – Patricia Cunningham, Peggy Burnham, Ralph Williams, Joyce Morris, Jack and Louise (Betty) Dugan, Sheila Vice, Sue Gough, Doug Rouse, Dickie Jackson, Donna Rogers, Frances Abston, Doug Dearman, Karen Crawford, Doyle Odom, Telina Birch and the list could go on and on. (So sorry, if I left anyone out, but I’m under a deadline!)
And if I had a chance to go back in time? I’d do it all over again. In a heartbeat.
Those 28 years taught me so much about writing, about the depths and heights of love and life, and the sheer joy of being with people who loved doing what we were meant to do every day – tell the stories inquiring minds wanted to know.
And now that The Mississippi Press will be printed no more, there is a sadness. But these people who I worked with, day in and day out? They WERE my family; they ARE my family; and will FOREVER be my family. And that sense of family, however weird and quirky we all are, is something that no one can ever take away from me.
Debbie Anglin is the Director of Communications for the Pascagoula-Gautier School District. She worked at The Mississippi Press beginning in 1976, at the age of 17 through December, 2002, when she left to work for the Pascagoula-Gautier School District.