Leon Fredrick gave me my first job, when I was about 19, and then fired me from it ten weeks later when it became clear that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.
He was a classic old-time newspaper editor, and when I knew him he had purchased the Mountain Echo in Ironton from Isla Armfield, the widow of Richard Armfield, the previous owner. They were an interesting pair in themselves and perhaps I’ll write about them one day.
Leon was a big guy, probably 6’6″, and rather intimidating. He had hired me to write feature stories, and I cranked them out like crazy. I wasn’t very good at hard news, though, and was far too shy at my age to walk up to people and start asking questions. If I had an introduction to someone, I could interview and write a story with ease; but generating my own story ideas was beyond my adolescent brain at this point in my life.
I remember one memorable day when a mansion just south of Ironton burned down. I dashed out the door, camera in hand, and spent the afternoon taking photos and scribbling notes. When I returned to the Mountain Echo office, I handed off the camera to Leon and started typing up my story. He emerged from the darkroom about twenty minutes later with my roll of film in his hand – utterly and completely clear. I had failed to load the film properly into the camera and had been snapping away all day with the film still in its canister. The look on his face was something I will never forget.
Leon’s wife, Nadine, was cheerful and upbeat, the opposite of Leon, who was all business. She provided a counterbalance to Leon’s rather sober demeanor, although I always got the feeling that she was just as focused on the business as he was and only showed it in different ways. After selling the Mountain Echo, the Fredricks pursued other journalistic business ventures, finally retiring to Branson, near where they had grown up. They’ve both passed away now, but they were certainly a memorable introduction to the world of small-town journalism for me. I’ve still got clippings of those feature stories, and they’re still pretty good.