Remembering a printing pioneer

Published 10:03 am Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The exact date is buried in a deep, dark crevice of my brain.

I do recall it was sometimes in the fall of 1972. At that time I had began my sophomore year at Chowan College (now a University), enrolled in its famed Graphic Arts program.

The leader of that program, the now late Herman Gatewood, had put out the word that the News-Herald in Ahoskie was hiring part-time employees. Back then, and really up until around the year 2005, the program sent many of its students to work at the local newspaper as the latter served as a great training ground for those aspiring to make the printing/publishing business a career.

As a 19-year-old with a car and other expenses in 1972, I was in search of a steady stream of income. I made Mr. Gatewood aware of my interest in the part-time position and he lined up an interview.

I was one of three Graphic students seeking the job, which turned out to be a position within the News-Herald’s offset camera room. That particular department’s main purpose was to use a very large camera to expose and develop sheets of film as large as 20×20 inches. It also was responsible for developing all the 35mm and 120mm film shot by the news reporters, making the black-and-white prints from those images, and then turning those prints into screened halftones or veloxes, part of the pre-press process.

The very first time I set foot in the News-Herald office (then located at the corner of McGlohon and North streets; now the home of American Legion Post 102), I was directed to the office of John Powell. John was the company’s Vice President of Commercial Printing. The offset camera room, which served both the commercial and web (newspaper) printing divisions, was under John’s authority.

The interview went well, and I was notified a couple of weeks later that the job was mine. That 20 hours per-week job has turned into a 40-plus year career.

What I remember the most about John Powell was his calm and level-headed demeanor. Although my direct supervisor at that time (Larry Howell) taught me a lot about the camera room, it was John who shared his vast knowledge with me about the printing industry as a whole.

Another of John’s attributes was he was a listener, gathering all the facts and weighing the options before coming to a decision. In the same vein, if you went to him with a personal problem, perhaps where life had thrown you a proverbial curveball, he listened and then offered advice. Nine times out of 10 the advice he shared was on target.

Later on, after Deborah and I had married, we moved from Windsor to Ahoskie and, low-and-behold, John, and his beautiful wife Joyce were our next-door neighbors.

One story I love to share about John came after he retired and moved home to his native Nash County. I was the Sports Editor at the newspaper in the 1990’s and had applied for press credentials to cover an ECU football game. I was to pick up those credentials at the “will-call” window at the ticket office located between Minges Coliseum and the football stadium.

I was late arriving to pick up my press pass and the Minges lot was buzzing with vehicular activity, blocking easy access to where I needed to go. My plan was to ask one of the parking attendants for permission to drive close and park off the curb long enough to run and pick up my credentials. Low-and-behold, the attendant working the Minges lot that day was John Powell….a job I later discovered he worked part-time in retirement. Of course he allowed me the access I needed.

Last week while interviewing an individual for a story, I found out they knew John Powell. But then came the heartbreaking news….John had passed away on July 15. He was 86 years old.

I arranged to get a phone number where I could reach Miss Joyce and shared with her my deepest sympathy. I told her how much I thought of John, the man I consider responsible for guiding and nurturing my career to the point where I’m at today.

Other than your parents and other close loved ones, I believe that God places certain people in your life to provide direction. For me that was John Powell. Rest in peace, my friend.


Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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