The last of the ‘giants’ passes on

Published 6:15 pm Tuesday, March 3, 2020

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Little did I know nearly 50 years ago of the impact that three giants in the printing industry would have on my career.

After graduating from Northampton High School in 1971, I had no clue of what direction I wanted to take in life. The Vietnam War was waging at the time, and I reached that magical age of 18 roughly three weeks after I was handed my high school diploma.

At that time, all young men from coast to coast had to register for the military draft. I did, and was immediately classified as 1A by the Selective Service. That was the highest classification, one simply meaning I was available for military service.

I could have chosen to volunteer for service or wait to see if I was going to be drafted.

When the Selective Service conducted their annual draft (aka Lottery) on Feb. 2, 1972 for men born in my birth year (1953), my number was 146. Numbers were randomly assigned based upon the where your birthdate was selected among the 365 possible dates. Fortunately for myself and all those able-bodied men born in 1953, there were no new draft orders issued for our group.

Meanwhile, I had chosen to enroll in the Graphic Arts program at what was then Chowan Junior College. That program, rated as one of the best in the nation, had piqued my interest during the time I spent on the Ram Page (newspaper) staff at Northampton High.

At Chowan, I was under the tutelage of three Graphic Arts professors: Herman K. Gatewood, Bill Sowell, and Tommy Nelson. Mr. Gatewood – who also served as the Chairman of the entire Graphics program – taught typesetting and design. Mr. Sowell’s specialty was the set-up and operation of all the printing presses. Mr. Nelson taught us all the darkroom (film) and platemaking work.

What I learned from all three men placed me on a solid foundation in the business of printing and publishing. There are perhaps many of you, those who have read my thousands of columns and news/sports stories over the years, who thought I’ve always been a part of the newsroom here at the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald and Gates County Index. Actually, I got my feet wet in this business by spending the first 15 years in the production process. I primarily worked in the offset camera room, editorial darkroom, and platemaking, but also have some experience on the press, in page design, and in circulation/delivery.

It was due to the “big three” (Gatewood, Sowell and Nelson) that my love of printing/publishing still burns bright today.

Over the years, I’ve lost my mentors….Mr. Gatewood died in March of 2003; Mr. Sowell passed away in June of 2017; and now, just last week, Mr. Nelson’s time here on Earth ended.

I have great memories of all three, words I have previously shared in this exact space about Mr. Gatewood and Mr. Sowell. Now it’s time to share one of my favorite stories about Charles Thomas “Tommy” Nelson Jr.

He was only 25 years old when he joined the Graphic Arts program at Chowan. It was at the end of my final year there in the Spring of 1973. Upon learning that I had earned A’s and B’s that semester in all of my other classes, I rushed over to the Graphics building (McSweeney Hall) to see my grades. I had an A under Mr. Gatewood and a B for work under Mr. Sowell. The only grade separating me from the Dean’s List (an honor I wanted so badly to show to my parents who had sacrificed financially to put me through college) was the one from Mr. Nelson.

Those grades were posted outside of his office. I had an 85 (only two points shy of the “B” I needed). He was in his office, so I entered in a begging mood. In my hands were a freshly poured 16-ounce fountain Pepsi and a yet to be opened bag of salted peanuts.

About 15 minutes of begging later, Tommy Nelson had a Pepsi and bag of peanuts in his possession. I had my B and a spot on the Dean’s List.

Tommy Nelson went on to make an impact in the printing business in Greenville and New Bern. Little did he or Mr. Gatewood and Mr. Sowell know of the impact they made of my life and the others who crossed their individual paths. You may be gone, but never forgotten!


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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