A.C. Snow

This News & Observer building is more than brick and mortar. Its people give it life.

The News & Observer’s Raleigh headquarters, pictured in 2014, has been sold. The 3-acre property will be developed into a mixed-use complex.
The News & Observer’s Raleigh headquarters, pictured in 2014, has been sold. The 3-acre property will be developed into a mixed-use complex.

At breakfast as I was reading the newspaper account of the sale of The News & Observer building, I felt tears gathering in my eyes.

“Oh come on! Get a grip on yourself!” I told myself. “It’s only a building.”

But I know in my heart, it’s not. It was a home away from home for 32 years. The image of it becoming a pile of rubble, to be replaced by a high rise, is sentimentally troubling.

I’ve always been proud of that building, one of the more handsome in town. But it’s the heart of the building I love: the throbbing, unceasing vitality within its walls.

People give a building life. As I write, the faces of the dozens of reporters, editors and administrators who came and went pass before me.

They were a colorful, exuberant sometimes cantankerous assembly of individuals, not an introvert among the entire newsroom. Newspaper people are a breed unto ourselves.

Lawrence was always late for work, sheepishly trying to slide into his chair without attracting the editor’s eye.

Motte was the newsroom chain smoker and accidental arsonist, always keeping a cigarette lit, reaching for it without looking as he typed away on some news story. He would take deep drags on the cigarette, returning it to the ash tray on his desk without looking.

It was no surprise that from time to time, he missed the ash tray and set his waste basket on fire, causing considerable smoke and consternation throughout the newsroom.

Bette, the so-called “Woman’s Editor,” was as colorful, as hyper and as exuberant as they come. Her column with unpredictable subject matter was always interesting but also of considerable concern to editor Herb O’Keef.

Every Christmas, Bette spent an entire morning at a nearby liquor store. Dressed in a Salvation Army uniform and armed with a tambourine, she stood just inside the liquor store door, vigorously ringing her little bell and extending the tambourine to all comers.

Bette, a native of Raleigh, knew almost everybody in town and wasn’t above hinting to customers buying their “Christmas Cheer” that if they didn’t donate, they might see their names in her column as people who possessed the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge.

She knew, of course, that she would not be allowed to engage in such journalistic blackmail, even for a good cause. But the donors didn’t know that and gave generously.

Dick, whose news beat was state government, was one of our less ambitious reporters.

Glenn, one of the state reporters, stopped off at the public library on Fayetteville Street to return a book and found Dick far back in the stacks, comfortably ensconced in an easy chair reading a book.

Soon afterward, his wife called me, then the city editor, and asked why it had been so long since her husband had had a raise. I told her he was lucky to still have a job. Dick moved on shortly thereafter.

When I became editor of the Times, my office overlooked Nash Square, a beautiful park populated by birds, squirrels and a scattering of homeless people who often napped on the park benches or asked park visitors for a donation.

During summers, my wife and two children would sometimes bring a picnic lunch that we enjoyed in the park. Afterward, the little girls would insist on visiting the newspaper’s snack bar, where they would hopefully check the change slots for unclaimed coins.

Ah yes, the mind is a marvelous thing. It picks through the rubble of our past and preserves certain experiences to be revisited at some future nudging.