Voices
Lee Anderson (Photo by Lesha Patterson for WORLD)

The long haul

Don't dismiss what old-timers can teach their younger colleagues

Issue: "All tied up," Sept. 24, 2011

Perhaps you've worked at your job for 10 years, or 20 or 30. Perhaps you're someone longing to say that you have a job, given today's employment picture. A job may fill us with gratitude and satisfaction, while its day to day saps us with the tall challenges and small tedium. After all, it's work.

Meet Lee Anderson, associate publisher and editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Anderson is 85 years old and has been working at the paper since he was 16. On a recent visit to the paper's newsroom with a reporter-friend who works there, I spied Anderson at his desk, where colleagues say he can be found just about every day of the week.

It was nearly noon and the newsroom had mostly emptied. Sportswriters in their ball caps were at their desks, here a lifestyle reporter, there an editor or two, but most of the paper's staff was out on assignment or to lunch. Not Anderson. He had a wrapped sandwich at his pressed-shirt elbow, and was eyeing the day's paper spread on his desk. His door was open to the newsroom, and ever the old-school Southern gentleman, he seemed happy to be interrupted to chat.

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In 1942 Anderson was doing odd jobs and errands for the Chattanooga News-Free Press, he told us, when the paper's crime reporter was called away to war. Would he step in to fill the position? Anderson was in high school, but headed to the newsroom every afternoon, often working on stories late into the night. He continued as a reporter through World War II, and in 1948 when the paper's editor died suddenly, News-Free Press owners asked him to step into that position. He was 22.

I imagine those war years were heady times and Anderson got a heady career start out of them. But 63 years later, what's the attraction? He could be enjoying a round of golf or lunch with cronies instead of fussing over the next editorial page. Anderson waves away questions about tedium and the passage of time. "We were so busy in the '50s," he says at one point, describing the prolonged battles for readership and advertising with the paper's then-rival, the Chattanooga Times.

The Times, owned by Adolph Ochs before Ochs moved to New York City and bought another paper by that name, at several points had two editions to compete with the more popular News-Free Press, which came out evenings. In the 1950s the papers combined offices and presses but remained separate publications-with the decidedly liberal bent of the Times going head to head with the News-Free Press' conservative stance. They would be rivals until 1999, when Arkansas Democrat-Gazette owner Walter Hussman bought both and merged them.

Anderson relishes remembering those days something like the Preacher who found enjoyment in all his toil under the sun, not much remembering the days of his life "because God keeps him occupied with joy in his heart" (Ecclesiastes 5:20). Pleasure at both challenges and tedium is what the rest of us can learn from steady workers like him.

And in the midst of it, the newsman found time to marry into the paper's owning family, to be a regular churchgoer and attend a weekly men's Bible study, and to build bridges between the city's white conservatives and its budding civil rights movement leaders.

Today the Times Free Press is the only U.S. newspaper that continues to run two editorial pages, a Times column (aptly on the left) and Free Press editorials on the right. Every day with an assistant Anderson plans out three or four editorials. On Sept. 1, those opinion pieces included one celebrating the first cars from a new VW plant in the city, another on the declining Tennessee lottery ("Funding higher education with lottery proceeds is a bad idea," he wrote), and a third on FEMA's freeze on disaster relief funds ("What Washington gives, it can take away").

What does an old man know? "For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing," Bildad the Shuhite told Job. Bildad was wrong-or he never met Lee Anderson.
Email Mindy Belz

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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