Dan Barkin

Publisher retired but roving at 78

Staff WriterMarch 15, 2008 

One of the things I like to do is get out and meet folks. One of the reasons I got into this line of work is that you meet interesting people and go interesting places. More so when you are a reporter, because the job forces you to get out. Less so, unfortunately, when you stop being a reporter and become an editor.

So when Robert Miller, the N&O's multimedia director, popped his head in my office the other day and happened to mention that he was heading out to Wake Forest, I asked if I could tag along. Robert had agreed to judge the photo contest of the Wake Forest Camera Club. I said, hey, maybe when we're there we can encourage them to post their photos on share.triangle.com, shameless promoter that I am.

We found The Forks Cafeteria, one of those places that locals know about. The parking lot was full, so there is hope yet for family-owned restaurants, even with the flood of franchise joints that have opened up in northern Wake County as Raleigh creeps toward Franklin County. The club, which had a very healthy turnout Tuesday night, meets in one of those back rooms that brought back memories of chamber of commerce, Rotary Club, Young Democrats, etc., meetings that I covered as a whelp.

I had never been to a camera club photo contest judging event. I thought that Robert would sit down with a bunch of photos, sift through them and then pick the winners. Uh uh.

Instead, after we ate dinner (I had the meatloaf), I realized that it was going to work as follows: Club members would pass the photos in front of an illuminated display table in the front of the darkened room, while Robert would call out a number from 1 to 9, with 9 being the highest. And he'd have to critique each picture as it went by. Now, that's pressure for you.

Robert, who came to The N&O as a photographer in 1986, gave some constructive criticism with his usual light touch. Maybe, he said about one photo, if you shot it at a different time of day, the sand would be more dramatic and the greenery would be greener. Maybe a tighter crop would have produced a better result, he said of another image. Here, he said approvingly of one photo, the model's eyes seem to be looking right at you, and that required the shooter to have patience.

I said up above that one reason I got into this business was to meet people. And sitting in with the camera club, I made Bob Allen's acquaintance.

He founded the club along with Bob O'Neal more than a decade ago, but that's not nearly why he's a Wake Forest icon. Allen is the retired publisher of The Wake Weekly; he took over the operation when he was in his early 20s. He still writes a column -- Roving Around -- for the paper, now run by his son and daughter-in-law.

Me, I started this column last May. Allen wrote his first column the year I was born.

For decades, Bob handled the business side and his late wife, Peggy, was the editor, and their service got them into the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame, where they joined the likes of Charles Kuralt. The camera club grew out of a conversation with O'Neal when they were judging a local photo contest and agreed that it would be a good idea. The club now has more than 30 members.

I wanted to follow up with Allen the next day to ask some questions, so I called and left a message. No response. After a couple of days, I called the paper. His daughter-in-law, Janet Rose, said no, he's on the road, and she graciously gave me his cell number. He might be where the cell service isn't good, she cautioned.

No problem. He answered after a couple of rings. I'm down on the Neuse near the Pamlico Sound, shooting pictures, he told me. It sounded as though, at 78, he was having the time of his life. Still roving around.

dan.barkin@newsobserver.com or (919) 829-4562

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