COLUMBIA — Eddie Cook is a big, gentle man who has worked at the Columbia Missourian for 50 years. Whenever anyone around the newsroom hears that, especially the students, they say, “Wow!”
That is a “wow.” That’s half the time the Missourian’s been around.
Eddie was a junior at Hickman High School when he began working here in 1959 as a printer’s apprentice. Two years later, Eddie graduated from high school on one weekend, married Martha Barnes the next and then started the job full time.
“I made $60 a week,” Eddie told me on Tuesday. “Funny thing, money was easier then when we had less. It’s more hectic now trying to budget.”
We sat talking right where he works three days a week, in a corner of the newsroom on the copy desk where stories are given their final edits. Headlines are written, pages are designed, and the stories are posted online and put into print. Eddie builds pages; he creates documents on a computer onto which we put stories and ads. He’s built pages his whole career, first with hot lead type, then with what we call cold type, meaning computers.
When Eddie started, he did jobs nobody else wanted to do. One was to “pour pigs” — long, metal forms filled with hot lead, which was used to put type on the pages. They got the hot lead from a 50-gallon pot kept on all the time at 600-plus degrees. “I got burned a few times,” he said.
Today, Eddie’s page-building world is digital, and increasingly, so is his newspaper. He is embracing this change reluctantly.
“I take both papers in town,” he said. “I drink a cup of coffee and read the Missourian in the morning, and after we have dinner and relax, I read the Tribune. … I don’t think I’m ever going to take my cup of coffee to the computer.”
Eddie, 67, and his wife have two grown sons, eight grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. Martha retired a few years ago from Missouri Credit Union, and Eddie officially retired from the Missourian in 2005. But he can’t quite seem to leave, which is good for us. He has the long view and helps us take changes to our jobs in stride.
“Just think how many of them I’ve been through in my lifetime,” he said.
And students — Eddie has helped tens of thousands of students go through the Missourian. Eddie helped me when I was a student in the '80s. He helped my bad page designs come out OK.
“You have some that’s a lot better than others, but you can’t let that interfere,” he said. “You have to help them all equally.”
The university can’t recognize Eddie for his half-century of employment because he worked for the Missourian, which was separate until 1997 when we became an affiliate of MU. But the Missourian Publishing Association Board of Directors honored Eddie at the start of its meeting last month.
Eddie’s uncomfortable being the focus of any attention like that. He’s letting me write about him only because he knows that around here, publishing something demands our greatest care.
It’s the best way we know to say thanks.
Elizabeth Brixey oversees coverage of education for the Missourian. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 882-2632.