RIP thy good and faithful servant

Published 8:44 am Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The back door would fling open followed by a towering man with a balding head toting an armful of boxes.

Gilbert Vaughan was back in the house!

Those were the old days at the News-Herald office, back when it was located at the corner of North and McGlohon streets, one block north of Main Street.

Gilbert was our production manager…a demanding boss who expected you to drop whatever you were working on at that time and cater to his projects.

My first job here at the News-Herald came in 1972. I worked part-time in the offset camera room. One year later, after graduating from Chowan College, I became a full-time employee.

Prior to the advent of today’s digital-based publishing world, producing a printed piece back then was extremely labor intensive. It took the efforts of 60-plus, full-time employees to produce all the news, advertisements, pre-press and press work for a single edition. With today’s technology, we perform the same feat with a dozen full-timers.

My work in the camera room was basically simple, but the load was demanding. We had one camera room serving two departments – the web (newspaper) press and the commercial (single sheet) presses. I had two bosses – John Powell, the Commercial Printing Director who hired me in 1972, and Gilbert Vaughan, the Web Production Manager. Gilbert later became Plant Manager for the entire operation, so his word was final.

Gilbert also solicited commercial jobs for the web press. Nearly every day, he traveled eastern ‘Carolina and southside Virginia looking for such jobs. Nearly every day, he’d burst through the back door with an armful of work…..meaning our day, despite coming in at 7 a.m., was just starting again at 3 p.m. With Gilbert barking orders, we’d hustle to get those jobs to the press in order for them to be delivered the next day.

To Gilbert’s credit, he did score some “gravy” jobs for our company. At one time we printed the tabs for every grand opening of a Food Lion store between Georgia and Maryland. We also had the Belk-Tylers account as well as one for NC Mutual Drug, just to name a couple more “sweet” jobs.

While he may have been ornery, you couldn’t help to learn the value of hard work under Gilbert’s command. He expected perfection, and if he didn’t receive your best work he would let you know with more than a few “choice” words and he didn’t care who else was within an earshot.

You were also expected to be at work on time. Back then, for a hard-partying 20-something year-old like myself, 7 a.m. was way too early when you just went to bed at 3 a.m. Let’s just say I caught an earful every weekday morning from Gilbert when I stumbled in to work at 7:20 a.m.

Later in my career, one now in the newsroom, I hold dear in my heart a totally different side of Gilbert. He was the ultimate volunteer, rallying to the cause of the Kiwanis Club, Salvation Army, Girl Scouts of America and R-C Wildlife Club. That was on top of his earlier community service – Ahoskie Fire Department, Ahoskie Rescue Squad and Ahoskie Youth Baseball.

The passion he had for this community was undeniable. He worked just as hard outside the walls of the News-Herald as he did within.

We lost that passion, that drive, last week when Gilbert, after a long and brave battle vs. cancer, died at the age of 82. For those of us who worked with Gilbert, either professionally or within the circle of his volunteerism, a piece of us died as well.

Fortunately, I did get to thank him, many times, for what he meant to me…how he helped to shape and guide my future in this business.

Rest in peace, my friend, your hard work and dedication to community will never be forgotten.

Cal Bryant is Editor of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index. He can be reached at or 252-332-7207.