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FLASHBACK: What’s black, white, and red all over? - Odessa American: Opinions

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FLASHBACK: What’s black, white, and red all over?

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Posted: Sunday, July 20, 2014 9:45 am

I am celebrating an anniversary of sorts – it has been 20 years since I embarked on a journalism career and that brings to mind the first fellow who hired me – a quirky, cowboy with a toothy, mischievous grin name Pearson Cooper. He was the guy who gave me my start at the Monahans News.

It seems like only yesterday when I walked into the office of the publisher of the Monahans News to interview for a job I wasn’t sure I could do. I knew I wanted to be in the newspaper business, but I had no idea the hard work it involved.

That hot day in August of 1994, I traveled from my home in Odessa to Monahans on the advice of my college advisor, professor and mentor, Dr. Bob Rothstein, who tipped me off that the weekly paper needed an editor. I walked into the office, which was black, white and red all over (remember the old riddle?) to speak to Pearson, the infamous publisher, owner, community leader and avid horseman.

That day, Pearson gave me a job and a chance to become the best reporter I could be. I had no idea how tough Pearson would be but as many of you know, it is the tough ones you remember most, because you learn the most from them. There he was, a medium-sized man, clad in jeans, cowboy boots with a cunning smile. I liked him from the minute I met him, and maybe he liked me, too; he hired me on the spot, even though I still had a semester left before I graduated from UTPB.

During the interview, Pearson did not mince words. He said I would be doing a lot of work for little pay, but that it was the most gratifying work a person could do — writing all the news fit to print and taking pictures, developing them myself and working until past midnight on Wednesdays to get the weekly edition to the public every Thursday.

We put the paper together the old way — cut and paste. Pearson, a cowboy at heart, kept his trusty scissors in his back pocket much the way a gunslinger kept his gun in a holster. When it came time to use them, he twirled them out of his pocket, clipped what needed to be clipped, twirled them again, and back they went, into his pocket with smoke steaming from the blades.

Wednesdays started early and ended late and it wasn’t long before I officially had “ink for blood.” On “paper day” he bought the staff supper to keep us going through the long hours. I wrote most of the stories for the week on press night, often with Pearson hollering “Let’s go people!” over the intercom at the office. If he had had a whip, he would have been cracking it.

We always had folks who straggled in to watch us do our weekly chore, and Pearson, ever the showman, loved to show all who wanted to watch, the way a newspaper was put together. He treated himself and visitors to a case of beer a week – something to wet your whistle during the long paper night.

Once the paper was printed, we still weren’t through. We then had to insert the paper, meaning we had to put the sections together. Whether you were the publisher, an ad manager or the editor, you stayed to stuff. He often joked that we needed bicycles and bags, then we could also deliver the paper. And every week, the paper hit the racks and yards in the early morning hours on Thursday.

After he sold the paper his family owned for 50 years in about 1997, the paper once again won kudos from the Texas Press Association as one of the best weeklies in the state.

And Pearson was referenced in a little “thank you,” from the then editor, who called Pearson and his family a part of “Ward County history.”

I have to speculate that Pearson himself may have written a synopsis on what happened during the 50 years his family owned the paper – this sounded just like him. And remember, this was written around 1996.

“A lot has happened in the past half- century:

*More than a couple of wars;

*The rise and fall of the free dope, free love, no

responsibility Hippie generation which has given us a president, Billy Clinton and not much else;

*The return of the two-party system to Texas. It actually is now possible for a Republican to run and get elected to office.”

Yep, that was Pearson - he ran the paper the way he thought papers should be run, getting the stories out, whether they were good, bad or indifferent. Known as the “Wild Goose” of Monahans, it was not uncommon for Pearson to commandeer a commissioner’s court or city council meeting – scolding and correcting the elected officials to make sure they were adhering steadfastly to the open meetings laws.

And sometimes stepped over editorial lines that most larger newspapers follow, but the townsfolk were used to this. And it may have been those tactics that made things to happen in Monahans.

On the day I found out he was selling the paper, a curious fax landed on my desk. It was a job at the Brownwood Bulletin. I was happy with Monahans and not ready to leave so I wadded up the fax and threw it in the trash. Curiously, the unwadded fax, landed on my desk again. So I paid attention. Pearson had put it there – he wanted me to move on with his blessing, but he didn’t have the heart to tell me he was selling the paper.

I was sad, I remember the day I left - it was like the last episode of the Mary Tyler Moore show. I didn’t want to go, but Pearson pushed me saying “I could ask you to stay but I don’t know what the future holds for this newspaper.” With that, we sat in his office, I cried and maybe Pearson shed a tear or two, we hugged and I left. It was one of the saddest moments in my life but he was sending me off to a better place, and I know that now.

Two weeks later I received word that Pearson had sold the newspaper his family had owned for 50 years. I knew that I made the right decision with his urging, but I was sad for him because I knew he was forced to make a very tough call.

Sadly, shortly after he sold the paper and took up life as an avid quarter horse man, he was diagnosed with cancer.

He fought the disease like the scrapper he was, but lost the battle July 27, 2000. He was in the ground before I even found out that he died, but word has it he went out in true Pearson Cooper fashion. His beloved quarter horse Ladd pulled a wagon carrying Pearson’s coffin draped in an Indian blanket. His horse and wagon led the funeral procession for one last ride through his beloved Monahans. What an exit.

It isn’t often that we are given the opportunity to tell the folks that have made a different in our lives, what they mean to us and I am grateful for the chance. And, thanks for teaching me to waltz and introducing me to Guy Clark and for forcing to go to livestock shows (I think…).

Happy trails, Pearson.

Odessa, TX

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