When I was a newspaper editor, that time dating all the way back to eight months ago, we had loyal readers who fit into too many categories to adequately list here. Let’s just say it was a diverse bunch who either loved us, hated us, or didn’t really care one way or another as long as the paper arrived on time with the correct number of shopping inserts.
But there were those who stood apart because they contacted the newsroom for one reason or another. They fell into a handful of categories:
1. Those who wrote to us anonymously, usually with cryptic messages, conspiracy theories and clipped articles containing hand-written notations at whatever the author felt to be the most salient points.
2. Those who wrote to us with thanks, complaints, criticisms, advice, commentary, Bible verses or random observations. They gladly gave their names, usually added a “Not for publication” notation and often kept up the correspondence over a period of years.
3. Those who wrote letters to the editor for publication on the opinion page.
4. Callers who might ramble on for 15 or 20 minutes without stopping about subjects ranging from disputes with dirtbag landlords, husbands who don’t pay child support, whether (insert name of any president here) is getting fair treatment by the press, mold spores, unidentified flying objects or the growing number of transgender seniors in retirement homes. (I didn’t make any of these up, by the way, I still have a file of my more curious phone calls for future reference.)
5. People who drop by unannounced in the lobby and request an audience with someone in charge.
Usually there is no overlap in any of the above. Every so often an opinion page letter writer would stop by to hand-deliver a submission, or just to meet the person handling their letter. But that was about it.
Lorraine Quinn, though, was different. Ms. Quinn hit for the cycle. She did them all.
I’m thinking about Loraine E. Quinn because I saw her obituary in the Burlington Times-News today — a publication she loved even when she didn’t like it so much. She read just about every word and had an opinion about nearly every word. She’s the kind of wonderful newspaper reader who is keeping print barely alive. As Ms. Quinn’s generation passes every day to the other side, the irony of what this means is significant.
Ms. Quinn was born in Massachusetts in 1926 and died in her home in Burlington, North Carolina on June 23, 2017. She was 91. I knew things about her because she used to call and just talk. She still had a Massachusetts accent and a voice that spoke to a portion of her life dedicated to smoking cigarettes. She served in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps and was a nurse for 30 years until her retirement. She had an interesting view on life, her politics were varied, her faith strong. She wanted to see positive stories in the paper and thought the world in general to be far too negative.
I certainly agreed with her on the last point.
She called me to talk about any number of things over the years. She used to call former city editor Brent Lancaster, too. My favorite call occurred several years ago when she offered a suggestion to offset all the bad news in the newspaper — putting the comics on the front page, just for one day. She reasoned that for that one day readers could find something to laugh at first before delving into the inevitable bad news inside. We never did it, of course, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I gave it some thought.
“Hmmm, it would only be one day …”
I met her when she stopped by the office years ago so she could shake my hand or see my face. She wrote occasionally for publication, usually short letters, which was good thing. Her handwriting was hard to decipher and could fill both sides of a page with notations written in the vertical margin. Sometimes she wrote just to get her thoughts on the record to me. She did this far more often. Those letters tended to ramble a bit. One thing I discovered today in going back through my Times-News correspondence is a letter she wrote anonymously in 2010, it was signed “An old young American. Her handwriting, though, was a giveaway. As she got older, her handwriting became almost illegible. That’s to be expected. She wrote less frequently, too and eventually not at all.
Her last note to me that I could find was dated July 19, 2015. She obviously worked hard to make it easier to read. It was about items on the opinion page that day — a column of mine about my great-great grandfather being a Civil War veteran, an editorial about troublesome bills in the N.C. General Assembly and a letter to the editor headlined, “America is a land of mixed messages today.” Of the latter she wrote:
“Amen to that one. The more this nation’s people fight over issues rather than forming together the more it delights the terrorists. This nation is dying from within.”
She ended it with a plea to “Get off your duff folks!” and signed it, “Sincerely, L.E.Q.”
Thanks Ms. Quinn. I heard you. I wish others did, too. May you rest in peace.