CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On Aug. 18, 1963, newly graduated from Marshall University, I walked into the newsroom at The Charleston Gazette on the first day of my first real job.
And here I am, 50 years later, writing an Innerviews column on myself, a golden anniversary edition about my so-called "career." Maybe they can use some of it for my obit.
My 50th year also marks the 25th anniversary of Innerviews. I've written nearly 1,300 columns since 1988. (Bring out the confetti and champagne!)
Hardly anyone stays 50 years at one newspaper. Most don't stay with newspapering at all. Change, challenges and the inspiring people I interview have kept me here.
I wasn't exactly stuck in a writing rut. I spent about 15 years as fashion editor and society writer, switched to medical writing for eight years and then settled into general features about people, places and anything else that interested me. I wrote a first-person consumer column. And for 17 years, I covered Golden Gloves boxing. So I've done a lot of different stuff.
In 2009, I officially retired but stayed on part-time. Now they pay me just to write Innerviews. Maybe I'll hang on until the end of the year. Maybe longer. When I think about all the people out there I haven't interviewed yet, it's tough to walk away.
"I enjoyed an idyllic early life in Huntington. My father owned a jewelry store, Wellman-O'Shea. I have a fraternal twin sister, Sherry, who still lives in Huntington. Our home on Wiltshire Boulevard was like a French salon, a lively gathering place for my parents' friends, and ours. Mom was everybody's confidant.
"As a kid, I used to write stories in spiral notebooks. At Huntington High, I wrote for the school paper. At Marshall, I was feature editor for The Parthenon. Everyone knew I would end up writing in some way.
"A serendipitous opening at the Gazette brought me to Charleston in the glory days of the state newspaper.
"The Gazette newsroom was like a scene from 'The Front Page.' Interesting characters. Clacking wire machines. Clicking typewriters. Cigarette smoke. Tile floors. Bright lights. (A couple of newsmen even wore eyeshades.)
"Whooshing pneumatic tubes sent page proofs to the composing room. We used paste pots to attach long sheets of copy paper. And yes, there were whiskey bottles in the drawers of certain desks.
"I was fashion editor. Never mind that my fashion acumen stopped with circle pins, madras wrap skirts and Bass Weejun loafers. Before long, I was subscribing to Women's Wear Daily. The paper flew me to New York twice a year to cover haute couture collections at the Plaza Hotel. Editors were royally wined and dined. We rubbed elbows with world famous designers -- Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Adele Simpson, Pauline Trigere. Oleg Cassini, Jackie Kennedy's couturier, was a favorite. We had a great time writing about Rudy Gernreich and his infamous topless swimsuit.
"Back home, I covered department store back-to-school fashion shows. When a hot trend hit, Louise Palumbo, fashion coordinator at Stone and Thomas, was always the first to call for a story. At different times, she dressed me in a minidress, a maxicoat and hot pants. I strolled the streets of Charleston with a photographer trailing discreetly to document the reactions. When I boarded a bus in the minidress, it suddenly got as quiet as a cemetery at midnight.
"For years, I wrote a column called Fashionating that chronicled the goings-on at local parties and what people wore to them. Can you imagine?
"We covered garden club meetings, teas, women's club conventions and the DAR. We wrote lengthy wedding stories that included detailed descriptions of the bridal gown, bridesmaids' dresses, even the bouquets. I learned to pronounce Alencon lace and spell stephanotis.
"On Thursday evenings, I laid out the Sunday Society pages using a ruler and page dummies with the ads blocked in. Years later, when we entered the computer age, the first time I highlighted a sentence and zapped it away with the click of a key, I thought it was akin to Jesus walking on water.
"When Statehouse reporter Don Marsh moved up to managing editor, he immediately pulled me out of the women's department and put me on cityside to cover medicine. I witnessed surgeries, even watched an autopsy close enough to peer into the emptied body cavity. I walked away with an awesome appreciation for the greatest of all machines -- the human body.
"Ned Chilton, our fiery editor, took considerable interest in this new beat and gave me some tough assignments. How many unnecessary hysterectomies are performed in West Virginia hospitals? As if the administrators would tell me! He wanted a story about the sex lives of quadriplegics. The story behind that story would fill a whole column.
"I wrote about penile implants and electroshock therapy. I wrote about a man who had a new nose made from his thumb.
"I wrote about death and dying. I've held the hands of dying patients, teased them, hugged them and cried with them, and I remember them, every one.
"I wrote about everything from gout to the gruesome lobotomy era in West Virginia. I covered every condition and disease known to man. People started calling me with symptoms. When I started diagnosing their problems, I knew it was time to move on.