His eyes were intense, piercing almost. And I was more than a little intimidated when he stepped into the office where then Editor Tim Reeves was interviewing me for a staff reporter position.
I didn’t know it then, but Farm and Dairy Publisher Wayne Darling was a shrewd businessman who kept this newspaper afloat in some mighty lean years.
“Were you raised on a farm?” he asked me, then followed up with, “Were you in 4-H or FFA?”
I don’t think he cared whether I could write, but whether I was right – for the job. And I didn’t know this then, either, but Mr. Darling was a keen judge of character. His approval spoke volumes.
Other than a four-year stint in the Air Force when he was stationed in Germany and France, Farm and Dairy was all Wayne Darling knew. His father, J.T. Darling, bought the paper in the throes of the Depression from founder R.B. Thompson.
Wayne Darling grew up amid the newsprint and the ink and the splashing hot lead from the Linotype typesetting machine. Summers during high school he worked on Editor Elden Groves’ farm.
Thus, he learned from two of the best: his father, whose business acumen saved the paper from folding; and Mr. Groves, who pioneered ag journalism in this state.
And he needed to be a quick learner, for he was thrust into management leadership at 26, when his father died suddenly. For the next 40 years, he steered our ship here at Farm and Dairy.
In his early years at the paper’s helm, Mr. Darling leaned heavily on the late Elden Groves, editor from 1942 to 1982. “Elden and I attended many meetings together,” Wayne told readers just after Mr. Groves’ death in 1993. “He was a great deal of help to me in the early years of my management of Farm and Dairy.”
Indeed, Mr. Groves served as a mentor to Mr. Darling, and the newspaper you’re holding today is the result of these two men’s dedication.
When I started at the paper, my office was on the second floor, the floor commanded by Mr. Darling’s office and presence. There, I heard my first throat-clearing “Harrumph,” a Mr. Darling trademark sound that meant disgust some days; disbelief, others; and “danger” on still other days. He did not suffer fools gladly, and brought the building to high alert just by stepping in the door.
It was an atmosphere built a little on “fear of the unknown” (I was never sure what notes from W.T. I might find on my desk), but also out of respect. He was the owner of the company, after all.
Forget Frank Sinatra, Mr. Darling was our “chairman of the board.”
When he retired in 1997, I worked with him on the announcement to go in the paper. Mr. Darling typed up a draft of some pertinent information, but tucked in among the list of his board memberships here and board memberships there, he had added, “… and a long-time girl watcher.”
That was vintage Mr. Darling, too: a hard worker and a sharp cookie, but softened with a wonderful wit. He loved to have a good time.
In recent years, I heard newer employees referring to him simply as “Wayne,” or “W.T.,” the initials that even his sons in the company call him. I’m sure I’ve called him those more familiar names, too.
But last night as Georgeanne Wolf, assistant to current publisher Scot Darling, and I were talking, she said, “He’ll always be ‘Mr. Darling’ to me.”
I knew just what she meant. And now that he’s gone, we close a long chapter – an amazing chapter – in Farm and Dairy’s book. It was a good read.