Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

September 10, 2012

There is a good reason why I don’t go to journalism conferences

Several years ago when attending conferences on journalism seemed to be en vogue, it seemed like I was going to a lot more than I do now. I see things differently from most journalists, and as a result, I’m not really good company during those kinds of events. If I were them, I would tell my bosses not to send me to those kinds of things too. I’m too much of a wise-cracker, and an embarrassment to the profession is what I would say if I were telling my bosses about me.

About 18 years ago, Barbara Hawkins and I went to a conference together at the Greenbrier, and I know what you’re thinking. Nope, I did not steal one of those fancy bath robes for home use. I did, however, get good use out of the one they put in my room. I got a flat tire on my car on the way up, and bought a $40 replacement tire at a service station near I-64. As a result, I had to shower up before I went to the first night mixer, so I wore the fancy bath robe while my hair dried.

Groups of journalists aren’t like groups of people in other professions. We’re mostly pretty cut-throat and competitive even when we’re alone, and age, race, gender or nationality doesn’t really make much difference. Put a gaggle of journalist all in the same room at the same time and you’ll have a lot of alphas in the alfalfa.

Anyway, one of the older gents in the room noticed that I was from Bluefield, and immediately mentioned that Burl Osborne started his career as an Associated Press reporter in the AP’s Bluefield Bureau. At the time, I did not know that, but I was eager to find out more when I got back home. Of course, at the time I didn’t know who Burl Osborne was anyway. When I got back home, I asked Eddie Steele, and he told me about Burl Osborne and about Brownie the dog, a mixed breed dog Osborne wrote about prior to its rescue from a Mingo County coal mine.

I never got a chance to speak to the great newsman on the phone, although his secretary acted as an intermediary and told me that he kept a picture of Brownie in his office. Since that time, I had seen his byline on stories that I was researching in the Daily Telegraph’s microfilm, and I liked his passion for good stories, as well as his thorough presentations. While I had not met him, I thought I knew him through his stories. As a result, I was sad when I learned of his death on Aug. 15. The story I wrote about his death brought in an email from Joe Hall, a Princeton man who was inspired by Osborne’s first-person account of the kidney transplant procedure he underwent in the early 1960s, when that kind of surgery was rare.

Osborne’s account of his transplant reminded Joe Hall that a couple of years earlier, he stood beside the deathbed of his friend, Bill Faulkner, former president of the Bluefield Gas Company, who died for lack of a transplant. He said that kidney failure ran in Bill Faulkner’s family, and it was typical for his family members to die in their 30s. Hall was associated with the Sunset News when Osborne was in Bluefield, but only saw him in passing.

I did, however, receive a phone call from one of Osborne’s close friends who traveled with him and communicated with him on a pretty regular basis through the years. Osborne and Arnold Nowlin were friends. He told me that V.L. “Stubby” Currence gave Osborne the nickname “Buckskin” because he was short in stature, but an absolutely aggressive reporter. Nowlin had several exiting adventures with Osborne, including one that took him into a church where worshipers handled serpents.

Nowlin said that Osborne drove to the church in Jolo in his red Corvette, and when they went inside, someone walked up to them and called them: “Uncircumcised instruments of the devil.”

“Burl looked down, then looked back up at me and said: ‘How did he know that?’ ” Nowlin said. Osborne took notes while Nowlin took photos and as Nowlin was photographing a woman with gray hair, he noticed that there were two copperhead snakes moving around in her hair.

“I remember saying to myself, if she keeps coming, Burl’s on his own,” Nowlin said.

“He was quite a guy,” Nowlin said of Osborne. “He had a nose for news. He could smell a story and Burl would talk to anyone.”

Nowlin served in the U.S. Air Force and worked as a designer at Kersey Manufacturing prior to relocating to Florida. He said he was also a good friend of well-known Daily Telegraph sports writer, Johnny Mayo. “Those were interesting times in the news business,” he said.

Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at barcher@bdtonline.com.

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