Democrat says farewell to longtime worker, friend

Published 12:01 am Sunday, July 19, 2015

The nickel tour — sometimes referred to as the Boy Scout tour — of The Natchez Democrat’s building almost always slows to a crawl in the pressroom.

Yours truly often leads those tours, and the reaction people have, young and old alike, to the enormous red press in the middle of the room never ceases to amaze me. No way around it, the pressroom is just cool.

When you work at a newspaper with its own press, it’s easy to take the steel and iron behemoth for granted.

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Because we print nearly all of our press runs at midnight, a rare few get to see the big machine purr.

If those wide-eyed Boy Scouts only knew how cool it is to see it run, they’d be impressed. Those young boys would be even more impressed if they met the handful of men who keep the press operating and printing thousands of newspapers each night.

On the newspaper publicity scale those guys are on the opposite end of the spectrum from the more public publisher, reporters and photographers.

Part of my tour lecture points out how a newspaper is truly an entity that depends upon teamwork. People from all over the building work independently at various stages of production as the newspaper is formed.

Eventually the pieces forge together at the press as the culmination of hours — even days or weeks — of work goes from pixels on a screen to ink and paper.

Our press is very much a study in mechanical wonder, which is why visitors from Boy Scouts to senators often stare in amazement as it sits idle.

The hands of the pressmen who can make it hum are truly gifted. They are one part master mechanic, one part skilled artisan.

Presses are a bit like cars in Cuba — they don’t get replaced often, but they’re regularly tuned up and rebuilt.

Those who know how to rebuild and operate the press are rare.

The Democrat family said farewell Friday to one of those men, press foreman Johnnie Griffin, who retired after working more than 34 years at the newspaper.

If you’re a longtime reader of our print edition, Johnnie has been essential in putting your daily news into your hands for years.

We have many talented people in our operation, but Johnnie was unique. He and I had a running joke about quality. I’d often remind him if I had some special news photos or special section that we really wanted to look good.

“I’ll push the ‘good’ button,” he would say sarcastically.

I nearly fell out of my chair a few weeks ago when Johnnie came to me to say he was ready to retire. My first thought was that he was kidding as he’s always making people around the newspaper smile with his quick wit.

When I realized he was serious, my heart sank a bit. Not only was I going to miss Johnnie, but I struggled to think of a Democrat without him. He was a fixture in our pressroom.

Grandchildren and his relatively newfound love of woodworking meant working five late nights a week had lost its appeal.

Johnnie’s early wood works are turned wooden bowls. I’m a fan and own two.

If you haven’t seen Johnnie’s work, search online for “art by the Griffins” to find he and his wife Loraine’s website.

We had a small reception at the newspaper late Friday for Johnnie and expressed our gratitude for his service, our appreciation for his friendship and our well wishes to him as he takes a turn in his career.

Martha Gray, our longest tenured Democrat team member, said a few kind words about Johnnie at the reception including pointing out that Johnnie always referred to people in the building by their first and last name. Several of us chuckled as we’d never noticed that previously, but she is correct.

I’ve been “Kevin Cooper” to Johnnie for years.

That was often followed by some bad news he was delivering with his wide grin.

Occasionally, he would follow up the bad news delivery with, “It’s good to be you, Kevin Cooper.”

His sarcasm always made me laugh.

“It’ll all be OK,” he would say usually when some small problem was brought to him.

For nearly 35 years, you were correct, Johnnie Griffin, it was OK, made better by your being here.

Happy retirement to you.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or