Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

April 15, 2013

Lodge Compton was a great story-teller with a love for the language

— In the winter of 2002, I was not ready to be part of the national media covering a big story in a remote rural area, but on Jan. 16, 2002, I found myself surrounded by several satellite trucks parked off campus at the Appalachian School of Law. At that point in my career, I had been to many so-called national news stories, but this scene was different. Another of our reporters — B.K. Necessary — was the first Bluefield Daily Telegraph reporter on the scene, but Tom Colley thought we needed more, so he sent me.

I considered B.K. to be a great reporter, and I knew she didn’t need me to be in Grundy, Va., too, but Tom wanted me there. He had grown up in Buchanan County, graduated from Garden High School and was never bashful about sending me to Buchanan County to cover stories. It was already late afternoon by the time I reached Grundy that day. B.K. was on her way back to Bluefield to write her stories.

With all the satellite trucks in the area of the law school, I felt surrounded and out of place until I saw a familiar face — the face of my friend, Lodge Compton. Lodge was an old-time newsman who started working at Grundy’s Virginia Mountaineer in the mid-1940s when he was a fifth grader, and never shook the printer’s ink out of his system. Lodge was no stranger to working with the national media.

In 1960, he was the Buchanan County point of contact for the national media’s search for insights into U-2 pilot spy plane pilot Francis Gary Powers who graduated from Grundy High School. In the mid-1980s, my friend, Eddie Steele mentioned Lodge to me as an example of an old-time newsman, and told me I should look him up.

I already knew who Lodge was. He called me on the telephone to comment about a story I had written for the Twin-State News Observer. In the late 1980s, I wrote a lot of coal history articles, but this one resonated with Lodge, and he called me to tell me as much. Of course, I told him that Eddie Steele had told me to seek him out, which caused us to swap Eddie Steele stories for a while.

After that, I called Lodge whenever a Southwest Virginia news story cropped up. He had a great love for the newspaper business, a willingness to help all news writers, plus he had great stories.

I started picking up a copy of the Virginia Mountaineer any time I was in the paper’s coverage area. Lodge had a remarkable way of talking. It was almost as though he enjoyed the English language so much that he seemed to savor each word he spoke as though it was part of the best meal he ever enjoyed. His work in the Virginia Mountaineer reflected that same love of language.

By the time that our paths crossed and we met in person, I already held Lodge in a very high regard. I never once thought that his manners were part of a show he was putting on for me. Lodge was one of those rare persons who treated everyone with respect. He was a newsman at heart, so by definition, he was not perfect, but he truly understood the community service component of our business and worked really hard to provide his readers with the news of the community.

When I saw Lodge that January evening in 2002, I knew I was among friends and all the network news crews seemed to disappear. Suddenly, the school shooting that claimed the lives of Dean Anthony Sutin, Professor Thomas Blackwell and Angela Dales became less about the news crews and more about a tragedy in a close-knit community that suffered a huge loss. Cathy St. Clair, the Mountaineer’s top reporter, made sure I got to the right places to hear the reports. Together, Lodge and Cathy helped me understand the impact on the community.

I spoke to Lodge briefly this past Christmas at the Walmart in Bluefield, Va., when he and Rosa Lee Nuckolls were doing a little shopping. We didn’t get a chance to talk for very long, but I admired Lodge so much that I savored every chance meeting just as he savored the language we both loved. A few weeks later, Lodge would learn that he had the cancer in him that took his life on March 22.

As he delivered Lodge’s eulogy, Evangelist Mike Rife spoke lovingly about the community newspaper and the man who had given so much of himself to make the weekly newspaper an important part of the lives of everyone in the community. Lodge was the kind of newsman who devoted his considerable energies into making every paper he published special for the community he served. The life of Henry Cabot Lodge Compton stands as an example of a newsman who sought only to serve. I was honored to call him my friend.

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

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