By Eric Shackle
The world's two oldest columnists have both just thrown away their quills, or stopped tapping their computer keyboards. In the US, Margaret Caldwell (104) has quit writing for the Desert Valley Times, and in Ireland, James Kelly (100) has written his last column for The Irish News.
"Everyone misses Margaret's column, but she felt she was repeating herself,and didn't have anything new to offer," says David Bly, editor of the Desert Valley Times, in Mesquite, Nevada.
"Her health is poor, but she's still alert and full of laughs.
"She leaves on a high note: her column has been awarded first place in non-staff columns by the Nevada Press Association. This is the second time she was won that award."
Earlier this year, The Irish News published this tribute to its veteran columnist:
Centurion columnist retires
The oldest newspaper columnist in the world, James Kelly, has written his final column, at the grand age of 100.
Mr Kelly joined The Irish News in 1928 and on Saturday he celebrated his birthday and the end of his time at the paper at a party with friends and family. He has written about Northern Ireland's major issues for the past 82 years, covering everything from the opening of Stormont in 1932 to the introduction of Home Rule, 40 years later.
After his long and distinguished career with The Irish News, the west Belfast man said he knew it was time to step down from his column.
Here's a story I wrote about Margaret Caldwell two years ago, when she was a feisty 102. It was published by the South Korean newszine OhmyNewsInternational:
Margaret Caldwell, 1940s pin-up girl and friend of famous film stars, now 102 years old, is the world's oldest newspaper columnist. She lives in Nevada, but never visits Vegas.
"I think the slogan 'What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas' is totally wrong," she told OhmyNews. "It denotes the wrong kind of reputation for Las Vegas. What happens in Las Vegas should be in the public domain as far as I am concerned."
Margaret writes a weekly column for the Desert Valley Times in Mesquite, Nevada, owned by Gannett Co., Inc. which publishes 85 daily newspapers, including the national newspaper USA TODAY (circulation 2,284,219), and nearly 900 non-daily publications
David Bly, editor and general manager of the Desert Valley Times, says "I interviewed Margaret as a centenarian, and was so taken with her wit and sharpness I asked her to write a weekly column, which she has been doing faithfully ever since under the title, 'Memoirs of a Crone,' which was her choice of titles.
"She simply writes about her life, and our readers are very fond of her... She still has a way with words."
Margaret Caldwell in 2009, pic by Todd.
OhmyNews interviewed Margaret by email. Here is the Q and A:
When and where was your first writing published?
- My first writing was published in 1980 by Warner Books, a novel called "Born To The Sun." I have written another book which is a sequel called "I Married A Genius", which I am presently attempting to sell.
Which newspapers or magazines have published your work?
- I wrote for the Chicago Tribune during World War II as Administrator for Women's Activities Civil Defense and now here in Mesquite for the Desert Valley Times.
How many children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren do you have, and where do they live?
- I only have one child, a daughter, who lives with me here in Mesquite. [Her 76-year-old daughter, Patrisha, posts Margaret's columns for her.]
When and why did you move to Nevada?
- I moved to Nevada to be with my daughter and son-in-law, now deceased, in 1997. They lived in Las Vegas and I lived with them for several years.
Do you ever visit Las Vegas and play the slots? Have you written about gambling?
- I do not visit Las Vegas. I don't care for gambling and am not a gambler. However, if I do want to throw away some money, there are three casinos in Mesquite where I can go. I do, sometimes, like to go to the casino for a buffet, but that is all.
Do you agree with the slogan "What happens in Las Vegas stays in Las Vegas"?
- I think the slogan is totally wrong. It denotes the wrong kind of reputation for Las Vegas. What happens in Las Vegas should be in the public domain as far as I am concerned.
What are your favorite subjects in your columns?
- The only things I write about in my columns are my life experiences and my thoughts on what is going on right now. I have had a long life and met a lot of people, famous or not, and have had a lot of experiences.
Do you receive much feedback?
- I have received some postcards and letters but not many. However, my daughter and I are constantly getting verbal feedback from people in this town whenever we go out.
One of those people is Barb King, who praised Margaret's and daughter Patrisha's performances in a New Year's Eve stage show a few weeks ago.
"In this play she [Margaret] was Miss Patience, and what a wonderful job she did re-creating a sweet, prim and proper school marm who had once been engaged to the sheriff.," Barb wrote. "Margaret continues to amaze everyone who meets her, with her wonderful humor and fabulous abilities with story-telling."
Margaret's columns cover a wide variety of subjects, ranging from "My First Kiss" to her latest column, "Hard times again - when will we ever learn?."
She wrote "My First Kiss" last year, when she was only 101. Here's a copy:
When I was young, about nine years old, there was a preacher who came to our country schoolhouse to preach.
Mama, who was very religious, always went to hear him and took me along. He almost always brought his granddaughter who was my age. On one occasion Mama gave me permission to return with them to Ackley, a small town about 15 miles away.
I couldn't believe my eyes when we were served dinner by the wife. The preacher got a serving of a very savory roast, the rest of us half of a boiled potato, no butter, just salt, and no dessert, while he had apple pie.
I was hungry when I went to bed with his granddaughter and hungrier after being served a small bowl of gummy oatmeal for breakfast. It was at that time I began to make decisions. I took my paper bag of possessions and, after telling the minister's wife where I was going, I left.
I went to Grandma Johnson, who was raising my dead sister's little boy, my nephew Lyle, who is, at this time, 80 some years old and living in Yuma, Arizona. Grandma Johnson opened her arms. The rest of the week was pure joy. We went to a dance at the little town hall. Grandpa took me to the dance and then said, "You know the way home. See you later," and left.
One of the neighbors had a boy of about 11 who danced with me and later walked me back to Grandma Johnson's house. He was so polite. He opened the gate in the back yard fence and walked me up to the house.
I was thrilled and tongue-tied. We stood at the door staring at each other, when he suddenly grabbed and kissed me, turned and ran like the hounds of hell were after him.
I forgot to worry about getting back home; the preacher would have to take me. Gee whiz, he really kissed me! What was his name again? I couldn't remember. The kiss on my cheek still tingled.
You can see five photos of Margaret at different stages of life posted on MySpace.
And here's an edited copy of this remarkable woman's autobiography:
I was born on Feb. 1, 1907, in the backwoods of Minnesota on a homestead, 25 miles from Backus, which now has a population of 2,500 people, the year before Henry Ford came out with his first Model T Ford.
I have seen the history of the 20th century; watched the boys leave for war -- World War I, that is, as well as World War II, The Korean Conflict, Vietnam, Desert Storm and Iraq. I remember the 1918-1919 flu epidemic.
Any 100 year old has done a lot of living. I think I have packed more into my lifetime than most.
- lived all over the country, from California to New York City to Richmond, Virginia,
- seen the first rocket go off at White Sands, New Mexico,
- visited Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, Carlsbad Caverns, among other places,
- counted movie stars such as Lillian Roth, Marie Dressler, Peggy Ann Garner, Elizabeth Taylor and Wallace Beery as friends,
- started the Virginia Cerebral Palsy Association and spoken at the Virginia Health Conference on Crippled Children,
- worked as Authorization Manager for Lord and Taylor in New York City,
- made a commercial for McDonald's,
- met Grant Woods, Albert Einstein, Bill Pachner, Gustav Rehberger, Leonard Goldenson, founder of ABC, among others,
- published a successful novel and written another for the Eldred (my maiden name) family.
I am presently completing another novel about a marriage made in heaven or hell, as the case may be.
Posted by Eric Shackle at 20:06
Friday, 2 September 2011