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Retiring editor reminisces about 37 years with Farm Press

Photo of round modules in a cotton field near Portland, Ark.
This is one of retiring Farm Press Editor Forrest Laws' favorite photos of the hundreds he took during his nearly 37 years with the publications.
Career spans from horse-drawn planter to tractors with more computer power than NASA had in the 1960s

I started with Farm Press on the day of the office Christmas party in December of 1980. That may seem a strange way to begin a new job, but Bill McNamee, the publisher who had hired me a few days before, asked me to start that day so I could meet all of the staff.

In those days, McNamee brought all of his employees – from offices as far away as Raleigh, N.C., and Fresno, Calif. – to the Farm Press Publications’ home office in Clarksdale, Miss., for the annual Christmas party.

That was a heady experience for someone whose former employer got upset if we used too many paper clips. But Bill felt it was important to bring all his editors, sales people, secretaries and production folks together at least once a year to, among other things, receive their annual bonuses and begin celebrating Christmas.

If you’ve done the math, you’ve figured out I will have 37 years with Farm Press in December. That won’t happen because I’ve decided to retire for health reasons and because I’ll soon be 71. So this is my last column.

Bill McNamee was a remarkable find for someone who was in mid-career as I was after working 10 years at a Memphis newspaper. He had become wealthy because he anticipated the need for print advertising for the dozens of new herbicides and insecticides that came on the market in the 1960s and 70s.

Yet he was a liberal Democrat who believed in high loan rates and supply management for farm programs. Bill’s philosophy has fallen out of favor among those who espouse free markets and less government intervention. To those, Bill would say, “How’s that working for you?”

He also believed in investing in his publications, expanding them from a small regional in the Delta to four Farm Presses across the Sun Belt. That kind of investment hasn’t always happened with the succession of owners that followed. Fortunately, the latest owner shows signs of returning to Bill’s way.

People ask me about the changes I’ve seen. That’s a dangerous question because I can remember watching linotype operators setting type with hot lead in the 1960s and now this column will go from my office in Memphis to our office in Clarksdale and eventually to a printing company in Chicago with the touch of a few buttons.

I can remember watching my grandfather plant cotton with a horse-drawn, two-row planter on our 70-acre farm in Arkansas. And, recently, I’ve driven tractors with more computer power in the cab than NASA had when it launched the first moon shot.

I also have a lot of memories and friendships I will never forget.

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