Last week we learned of the passing of Robert “Bob” Werner. For those of you who don’t remember, Bob began his career with the Great Bend Tribune in 1961 selling advertising. About 10 years later he took over the helm at the Tribune as publisher where he led our organization until his retirement in 1996.
Bob was the one who hired me to lead his accounting department and convert our records from a manual to computerized system. Yes, it’s still hard to believe, all of our accounting records including our payroll and billing were done with pen and paper ... in duplicate, with carbon paper. I’m sure there are a few of you who have been around long enough to remember our “chicken scratch” statements mailed with a stack of tearsheets. Prior to working at the Tribune, I had worked for a short time at First United National Bank and Trust and actually had to have Diane Caton explain to me how to interpret the statements. It was a far cry from today where we can just email them to you.
My job interview with Bob was challenging to say the least. He’d ask me a question to which I answered as directly and honestly as I could. After most of my questions he would respond, “I’m sorry. I’m not sure I understand you.” So, I’d answer his question again rewording my answer and wondering what I said wrong. Sometimes I had to answer the same question a third time. I left thinking it was the worst interview in my life. So imagine my surprise when he called to offer me the “chief accounting” position, replacing the retiring Myrna Campbell. Her assistant Lela Glover retired at the same time. Of course, it only took one day at my new job to find out the angst of my interview. Less than a week before I started at the Tribune, Bob received his first set of hearing aids.
Things in the newspaper industry have really changed since Bob retired. I remember him telling stories about the bottom drawer of his desk being reserved for a bottle of Scotch — for emergencies of course. The building was a smoke house and it only became smoke-free when Bob quit smoking shortly before I joined the team. At that time, we had about as many non-smokers in the building as we do smokers today (which is to say only a few).
Bob was somewhat, no, he could be downright intimidating. He managed with an iron fist. But it didn’t take long to discover that his bark was worse than his bite. He was a considerate individual, responsible businessman and genuinely cared about his staff and his community. He loved children and would make a point to hold our newborns when we brought them in. He even allowed me to bring my daughter to work until she was old enough to go to day care.
Like the rest of us, Bob was not perfect. He made mistakes. He made amends. He knew what he wanted and worked hard to get where he wanted to be. You didn’t cross him and so long as you did what he expected you to do (and then some), he’d get out of your way and let you do your job.
So here’s to you Mr. Werner, as you swing your clubs on that eternal golf course. Thank you for the opportunity to learn from you and expand my horizons. Thank you for introducing me to the wonderful women in your life, Dorothy, Debbie and Julie. And thank you for teaching me why community newspapers and community journalists are so important and worth preserving.
Mary Hoisington is publisher of the Great Bend Tribune. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.