Veteran journalist succumbs

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 12, 2003

AHOSKIE – A longtime local journalist hailed, in the same breath, for her toughness and compassion saw the final page of the final chapter of her life end here Tuesday morning.

Ramona Gray Goode, a veteran reporter and editor of this newspaper until her retirement in 1989, died at her Ahoskie home following a courageous battle against cancer. She was 75.

A celebration of life memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday at Garrett Funeral Home. Rev. Robert May will officiate.

For 21 years, Goode dedicated her life to the service of Ahoskie, Hertford County and surrounding areas through the pages of The News-Herald (now the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald). She was just as much as a friend to a hard-working housewife as she was to a powerful judge. She knew both by their first names.

&uot;Ramona was toughest sweetheart I’ve ever met,&uot; said Kevin Braun, who landed his first newspaper job at The News-Herald back in 1976. &uot;She enjoyed her job because it allowed her to be around the people who, like her, loved to serve Ahoskie and the surrounding communities. She took a lot of pride in her work.&uot;

Braun, a New Jersey native who for the past 14 years has worked with the Atlanta (Ga.) Journal Constitution, recalled how Goode immediately befriended him when he first arrived in Ahoskie as a 22-year-old graduate of Syracuse University.

&uot;I was like a fish out of water as it was my first trip to the South,&uot; he remembered. &uot;Ramona welcomed me with open arms and made my transition a smooth one. She not only became my mentor, but my friend.&uot;

Goode launched her newspaper career in October of 1968, hired by Parker Brothers Inc. (the original owners of this publication) as a receptionist. Seven months later she moved into the newsroom as a general assignment reporter.

&uot;She went from answering the phones to reporting in a very short period of time,&uot; said former News-Herald owner Joe Parker. &uot;She worked her way up, overcame a lot of obstacles and wound-up giving her heart to the readers. She may not have had the education that most journalists bring upon entering the profession, but what Ramona had was a very special gift, that of understanding what her readers wanted and her stories reflected that fact.&uot;

Two former Managing Editors of the News-Herald, Andy Jackson and Joe Covolo, sang Goode’s praises.

&uot;Ramona was a special lady,&uot; noted Jackson, now employed in Public Relations and Marketing at Lees-McRae College after serving as Managing Editor from 1981-87. &uot;She was the type that you didn’t have to ask where she stood on a certain issue, she would let you know.&uot;

He continued, &uot;We always didn’t see eye-to-eye, but we always came to terms. If there’s one thing I learned about Ramona, that was people either loved her or hated her; there was no in-between. I loved Ramona Goode. I hate that she’s gone.&uot;

Jackson, like Parker, marveled at Goode’s determination.

&uot;Ramona was one of those exceptional folks who came up through the journalism school of hard knocks,&uot; he stated. &uot;Before she met and married Guerry (her second husband), she was a single mother of three who was determined to succeed.&uot;

Covolo, now retired as a Technical Specialist with the U.S. Army Reserve and living in Midlothian, Va., was Goode’s immediate boss from 1971-1980.

&uot;Here I was, supposedly her boss, and it was she that led me around by the hand,&uot; said Covolo. &uot;What can I say about Ramona other than she was an institution down there in Ahoskie. A great mind, but more importantly, an even greater person. I have so many fond memories of Ramona.&uot;

Citing her &uot;knack for news,&uot; Covolo recalled a time when a bank on Ahoskie’s Main Street was robbed.

&uot;She went down to cover the story and found that the police tape was already up, blocking her access,&uot; he remembered. &uot;Always looking for an edge, she saw the (Ahoskie) police chief arrive and immediately went over to inquire about the robbery. As they made their way towards the bank, they both stepped under the police tape and entered the bank. She started snapping pictures before they realized she was there. She was asked to leave, but she had her story and her photos.&uot;

Those stories and photos earned Goode a combined 22 local, state and national awards from her peers in the newspaper industry. Included among those honors was a prestigious award from the America Junior Miss Program.

&uot;There no one in the newspaper business that doesn’t love being recognized for their hard work,&uot; stressed Jennifer Moore, who succeeded Goode as News Editor in 1990. &uot;Ramona was no different, but she shared with me the knowledge she used to earn those awards.&uot;

Moore said her co-worker’s dedication to the job was unsurpassed.

&uot;I remember a day when Ramona had a splitting headache,&uot; she said. &uot;It was a paper day for us, meaning Ramona was too busy to be sick. But we watched her become worse and worse as the day wore on. It got to the point where we thought she was having a stroke. When we begged her to go see a doctor, she refused, saying she first had to finish her job. Call that foolish if you may, but that showed her dedication to a job she so dearly loved.&uot;

Two other former members of The News-Herald staff each admitted their later success was linked to what they learned while in Ahoskie.

&uot;Ramona Goode perhaps influenced more journalists than she’ll ever know,&uot; said Mike Voss, now the Contributing Editor of the Washington (NC) Daily News after spending four years (1982-86) under Goode’s tutelage. &uot;I learned more from her than I could have picked-up at any School of Journalism. What she taught me wasn’t found in any books.&uot;

In 1990, Voss earned the highest honor paid to a journalist, winning the Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service.

&uot;Ramona had a big hand in me winning that award,&uot; he stressed. &uot;Years after I left The Herald, I can still vividly remember her telling me to always put a human face with a news story. Those words of wisdom have helped me in my professional career, one that I owe all to her. I’m so sorry to hear of her death. She will be missed.&uot;

Another young journalist, Tom Fortner, came to Ahoskie, fresh out of college, in 1979.

&uot;I felt that Ramona was taking a big chance on me because I had no formal training in newspaper work,&uot; recalled Fortner. &uot;But Ramona had this rare quality of being able to figure out the strengths and the weaknesses of a young person. She figured out what I was capable of and put her faith in me to get the job done. Sure, I made mistakes, but she was always there to reassure me.&uot;

Fortner, a reporter at The News-Herald and later editor of the Northampton News, left the area in 1983. He is now Director of Communications for University Health Systems of Eastern Carolina and the Division of Health Services at East Carolina University.

&uot;She had a hand in my success; I owe it all to her,&uot; concluded Fortner.

Ironically, Goode’s final words in print – dated Dec. 27, 1989 – aptly summed up how she felt about the newspaper business and how, if those words were changed around, she will be remembered by family members and friends she left behind.

&uot;I shall miss everyone and everything. You don’t spend over 21 years on a job without leaving part of you there. My hope is that everyone will think of me with kind thoughts, just as I shall remember them,&uot; she wrote.

She was right as Ramona Goode is being remembered with many kind thoughts.