Every once in a while, something pops up on your computer screen that just punches you in the gut, leaving you breathless for a few moments. That happened to me this morning.
One of my early morning routines is to scan the state’s newspapers online to see what’s going on around the state. If you send $9.99 a month to Forum Communications, they let you do that.
I start with The Dickinson Press, where I started my newspaper career almost 55 years ago, in September of 1965. I scroll about halfway down the home page to check the obituaries to see if anybody I know passed on yesterday. This morning there was a name there I recognized, and that’s what hit me in the gut:
Charles Vincent McLaughlin.
Now I had never heard anyone call him Charles Vincent, or even Charles, but I knew who that was.
Chuck McLaughlin is the man who probably had more influence on my early, and even later, life than any other man except my father.
I hadn’t heard from him, or of him, or seen him, or even thought of him, in many, many years. You know how that happens. Someone drifts out of your life, you both move on, and memories fade. Until an obituary pops up in front of you and punches you in the gut.
But let me tell you what I remember.
I came to Dickinson State College in the fall of 1965. I was going to study English, learn to write, and become a newspaper reporter. I stopped in at the office of The Western Concept, the campus newspaper, and asked if I could work for them. Neil McFadgen, the newspaper’s advisor and Everett Albers, the newspaper’s editor, made me sports editor and I got some real writing experience in my freshman year at the college. It paid $50 a month.
But I got another job. I went down to the daily newspaper office and asked to see the editor. That editor was Chuck McLaughlin. I asked him if it was possible he needed any help around the paper. He gave me my first real newspaper job. Taking phone calls and writing sports stories on Friday nights.
Here’s how it worked. About 9 p.m. on Friday night the phone started ringing in the newsroom at The Press (225-8141). It was high school coaches calling in their scores from that night’s game. There were two desks back in the corner of the Press newsroom. Russ Wells, also a student at the college, and I sat across from each other answering the phone and typing up two or three paragraph stories and line scores from area football games on old Royal typewriters, writing a headline (Braves Nip Midgets, Titans Too Tough For Saints, Hettinger Outlasts Bowman), ripping the paper out of the typewriter, and sticking it in a basket on ropes which we sent downstairs to the typesetting room (It was hot lead in those days, poured into linotype machines) where an elderly lady named Goldie, who sat at that linotype machine with a camel cigarette dangling from her lips, put our stories into type and slapped them into a galley of the sports page.
By about 10 o’clock, the phone would stop ringing, the last story would be written, and we’d head downstairs to look at a page proof before it went off to press—the last page the pressman would get that night.
But here’s the day I remember most. It was a Friday, early in the football season, and I checked in at the office to see what time Chuck wanted me to report that night, and he said “St. Mary’s is playing at Belfield this afternoon. Why don’t you go out there and cover it.”
Wow! My first assignment! I went. Belfield won. I don’t remember the score. But here’s what I DO remember. I came back from Belfield and wrote the story, and the next morning it appeared in the paper, and just under the headline it said “By Jim Fuglie Press Sports Writer.” My first daily newspaper byline. I saved that sports page. I’m pretty sure I still have it, in a box full of old clippings in the basement. I’ll go find it someday.
Eventually Russ moved on, and I became sports editor. In the winter there was basketball on both Tuesday and Friday, and on those nights Chuck would sit at that other desk and take calls and write stories. What I remember about Chuck was, he could do a story in about half the time it took me. This was after he had already put in a long day being the newspaper’s editor, writing stories and editorials, going to meetings, laying out the pages, and all the things editors on small daily papers do.
I worked for Chuck until an untimely draft notice sent me scrambling to the Navy recruiter’s office in the spring of 1968. I revered that man. He was tall and blond and good looking and smart and his fingers flew over a typewriter faster than any I had ever seen.
He was a really good writer. He wrote an editorial almost every day and at the bottom of the editorial, he typed his initials: C.V.M. Someday I’m going to go to the Dickinson Press office—I guess I’d better do it pretty soon since their last issue is this coming Wednesday—and have a look at some of those editorials. One sticks in my mind–it was the early days of the oil industry in North Dakota, and Chuck took an unpopular stand on the on a decision of some state officials on the spacing of oil wells. I don’t remember the details, but I remember all hell breaking loose in the newspaper office one day. I’m going to go find that one. While I’m there I might even sneak a look at the sports pages.
When I came back from the Navy, Chuck was gone. He had moved on to bigger and better things, eventually becoming editor of the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, Colorado’s second-largest newspaper. Over the years we lost contact. Until his name showed up on the obituary page of the Dickinson Press today.
Chuck McLaughlin gave me my start in the newspaper business, launching a checkered career in news and public relations. I’m not sure what I’d have done with my life if he had not hired me as a Friday night sports writer. My condolences to Rose and the kids and grandkids. He was a great man. Here, if you want to read more about him, is his obituary.
Footnote: I decided to try to track down my old friend Russ Wells, maybe give him a call, and reminisce about Chuck. I didn’t have an address—last I heard he had retired to Florida—so I googled him. What I found was his obituary. He died last September. 74 years old. Dang. Here you can read about him too. Some of my readers might even remember him.
I’m feeling old today. But I’m still here.