I want to share a few thoughts today about the passing of my former boss, Josiah P. Rowe III, who spent more than half a century helping to make this an outstanding newspaper.
We shared an alma mater, Washington and Lee University, where I first heard about the general manager and publisher of The Free Lance–Star everyone called Joe.
The details are a bit fuzzy, as this happened in 1977. For some reason, I was down in the basement of the journalism building. While down there on a now-forgotten errand, I struck up a conversation with a longtime employee of the print shop.
In the conversation, it came up that I was about to leave for an internship at The Free Lance–Star, something I was advised to do because both Rowe brothers, Charles and Joe, were alumni of W&L and kind enough to hire journalism students as interns.
The print shop employee got a big smile on his face and said he remembered Joe Rowe from Rowe’s time at the school. He recalled that Rowe worked in the print shop while a student at W&L, and said that he arrived knowing as much about some aspects of printing and typesetting as some of the employees in Lexington. He remembered that Rowe seemed to find the print work satisfying, and speculated that working with the machines might have helped forestall feelings of homesickness.
In years of working for Joe—particularly after he and his side of the family purchased the other half of the business from Charles and Charles’ side of the family—I noticed that his face always lit up when talking about the old days of setting hot type.
In most of those conversations, he would talk about operating a Linotype machine, and often recited the layout of the keyboard.
Much has been written by many here at the paper and the family about Joe Rowe’s work with brother Charles to expand from a small paper to a mid-sized daily, one that Time magazine called one of the best in the country.
But I don’t know if anyone else has mentioned how Joe Rowe had no qualms about getting his hands dirty at work.
This was proven to me on my first day as an intern, when after a long day I noticed someone down on the floor of the managing editor’s office. He was on his back under the chair of that editor, Robert E. Lee Baker, using duct tape to somehow repair the seat.
“Who’s that, the janitor?” I inquired of a longtime reporter.
“Nope, that’s one of the owners, Joe Rowe,” he replied with a laugh.
Joe’s love of machinery and his early embrace of new technology gave our newspaper one of the first offset presses in the country, which allowed us to use large color photos well before most other newspapers. Combined with our always-great photographers, it made for some striking editions of the paper.
There was one other habit Joe had as a boss that may seem strange to some, but to me always underscored the fact that we were a newspaper where the owners were always just a few steps away.
For decades, Joe Rowe personally handed you your paycheck every week. Sometimes, the delivery came with a compliment on a story, at other times a story idea, and occasionally a reminder of a recently committed spelling or grammar infraction.
There was something oddly reassuring about having one of the owners that involved and present, even if the check delivery did occasionally come with reminders about the difference between “cement” and “concrete.”
At the paper and at institutions he was involved with for decades, he will be missed.