As the decades pile up for those of us who've made it to senior citizen status, one of the ongoing sadnesses of life is bidding farewell to those who have in one way or another been a part of our time on the stage: long-ago classmates, parents, family members, friends, co-workers.
For many of us at Farm Press who've had the good fortune to be with the same company the majority of our working lives, our fellow staff members have been, and are, family.
This week, we said goodbye to one of our family, Ben Pryor, who was a member of our editorial staff for nearly 20 years, and died Sept. 21, following an extended illness.
We “stole” Ben from the local daily newspaper, where he'd been working as a reporter, following a stint with a newspaper in Arkansas. During his years with Farm Press, he cycled through a number of assignments, from working in the field, writing stories about farmers and the events in Mid-South agriculture, to managing editor of our Southwest edition, overseeing its content and design.
He chafed somewhat at the desk duties. He'd rather have been writing. And it was, in a way, our loss, because that was where he shone, particularly writing about people. He had a knack for capturing the personality, character, depth, and often as not the quirks and oddities that made a person truly interesting, and the story more readable.
Ben was, he tried to convince everyone, the consummate curmudgeon — irascible, obstreperous, iconoclastic (and he would be delighted that I use those terms in describing him). He was all of those. But underneath the self-cultivated grumpiness, he was also a softie, and more than once I saw him fight back tears when something touched him deeply.
While he made the transition well from newspaper reporting to writing about and working in the specialized world of agriculture, Ben's abiding love was politics and the role of politics in government, particularly the impact of the tumultuous events and changes that occurred in the South in the 1960s and 1970s. He had a voluminous knowledge of southern history and a keen insight into how events and policies influenced and shaped the region, especially his home state of Mississippi.
Off and on during his Farm Press years, he was putting thoughts on paper for a book about that era, a project he continued after he left us. Occasionally, he'd stop in at the office and confide that he was making good progress on the book. Sometimes he'd let me read a few pages of whatever he was writing at the time; it was, no less than expected, carefully crafted and insightful.
We were saddened as Ben's health problems accumulated: heart, cancer, nursing home, hospital. Now, in bidding him farewell and Godspeed, we remember the years he was part of the Farm Press family: his talents, his wry humor, his gentle, good heart.