By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
During the last decade of his life, I spent an hour or two almost every Sunday afternoon visiting with the late H. Edward “Eddie” Steele. Eddie called my visits the Sunday afternoon bull sessions, and always sustained the “L” sound in bull as it came out of his mouth.
Each bull session was a gem. I thought about putting them in a book, but alas, there probably wouldn’t be much of a market for them. Besides, with the passage of time, my memory for recent history has become far more cloudy than my memories of my youth. I didn’t take notes of our sessions. There are no tape or video recordings. They’re just good memories.
There wasn’t much politically correct about the opinions Eddie expressed. I never threatened to walk out when I was offended by something he said, although I would always point it out and explain why what he had said was offensive to me. As time went on and he came to the point in a sentence where he would traditionally use a non-PC expression, he would pause, replace the expression, look at me to make sure that I was aware that he had edited his conversation for my benefit, and resume his conversation with another image.
Eddie started out in the news business as a “stringer,” a reporter whose pay is determined by the column inch of copy they produce. Editors taped stories together, measured the combined stories with a ruler and paid on a preset per-inch rate. Then, as now, newspaper production personnel are driven by perfection, and will work to make sure each letter of a long word is as accurately reproduced as each letter in a short word. Eddie knew that long words filled column inches quicker than short words, so when his editor assigned him to cover a dull meeting, he would scour his dictionary and thesaurus to find the most elaborate words to express a thought when a brief word would suffice.
He was a reporter who started working as the country correspondent for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph in 1922, when he was still a student at Richlands High School in Richlands, Va., but his first real reporting job came a few years later when he went to work with the Williamson Daily News. That was during the height of the West Virginia Mine Wars when it seemed like there was constant violence between striking coal miners and armed mine guards. He told me he covered 60 murders in one year, paused and added: “How many ways can you write about a murder?” He left Williamson and traveled to San Francisco, Calif., to take another job as a newsman.
During the first year or so, Eddie wrote notes to himself in the palm of his left hand to serve as reminders of topics he wanted to cover. During our chats, he would find a nonchalant way of bringing his hand in front of him by yawning or coughing so he could sneak a peak, and steer the conversation in the direction of his choosing. In later years, he started writing more extensive lists on folded pieces of paper that he also tried to conceal in his hand. We always had coffee and he always had a list.
I loved the stories about his friendship with the teenage John Nash who lived across the street from him when Steele lived on Whitethorn Street. Nash had a thirst for knowledge, and Eddie enjoyed telling stories. Eddie told me that he expressed his frustration to Nash over missing important telephone calls because he was on another call. Sometime between the years of 1937 and 1942, Nash rigged Eddie Steele’s telephone so incoming calls would ring even if Steele was talking on the telephone. Telecommunications later caught up with Nash and developed call waiting, but Eddie Steele didn’t pay extra for that service.
Eddie always wanted to know what was going on in the community, and he pressed me for news of the local business, political, legal and social world. One afternoon, he met me at the kitchen door and admonished me because I didn’t have a story about the most important scientific breakthrough that had occurred in his lifetime. As we walked into the living room, he asked me how I could miss a story of that great importance.
Eddie was born on Aug. 24, 1907, and I immediately started thinking about the Wright Brothers, manned space flight and the lunar landing in 1969. We got seated, I explained that I try to search out all of the stories of importance to our readers, then asked him to tell me what I had missed. “Viagra!” he responded. The drug had been licensed in 1998, and he had apparently read something about it. He was already in his 90s at the time. I smiled, but he was dead serious. Eddie lived until June 27, 2003.
Bill Archer is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at email@example.com.