It has been said that you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family. Well, you also can’t choose your co-workers, which can cause a fellow all sorts of angst.
My very first job in the journalism field taught me more than a dozen years in any prestigious university ever possibly could have, I feel certain of it. I was young, passionate about writing news, politics, photojournalism. I couldn’t wait to jump in with both feet.
Day One, the moment I arrived in the bullpen-styled newsroom, I learned that a murder had taken place overnight, in a rural area of our coverage. I knew the area well, could drive right to the house where the murder had taken place. An elderly man had been attacked and killed in his home.
The senior investigative reporter was assigned to cover initial reporting. In days to come, I would visit the crime scene and later help cover the murder trial of three young people, a female and two males, all found guilty of robbing and beating to death the man who had once offered them work.
Through those initial hours on the job, there was an anxious adrenaline pumping through me. I wanted to meet and work with the senior photographer, Chic Knight. I had long admired his work. I said this in the newsroom and two of my co-workers stopped what they were doing, and I saw a look pass between them. Uh-oh, what did that mean?
It was time to shoot photos of the crime scene, and Chic Knight came lumbering in to the newsroom, all grumbly and stern, the way a seasoned photojournalist would appear in any movie. He seemed 7 feet tall to my 5’2’’, but I put on my best smile, turning from my computer screen to introduce myself.
He was having none of it, avoiding me quite clearly. He checked the clipboard where writers were assigned to certain photo jobs.
“I’m takin’ Greenie. Great.”
As he walked away, he shouted, not happily, “Come on, Greenie!”
I kept on working until I realized everyone was staring at me. Oh, turns out I was Greenie. Green behind the gills, and about to be thrown to the sharks.
The crime scene was horrific, where I mostly took notes, asked questions and tried to stay out of the way. Later, back at the newspaper office, I followed Knight in to his dark room, where he developed his own film.
“Don’t touch anything,” he grumbled.
I wanted to grumble back, but my upbringing wouldn’t allow it. I stayed quiet and took it all in.
“Go to the morgue and look for these people,” he said.
The paper’s morgue wasn’t as dreadful as it sounds, but was a filing system before computers put previous articles and pictures as close as a click of a mouse. I spent the next hour searching for any related articles on the victim or perpetrators, wrote up a story and beat deadline by 15 minutes.
While I went home every day loving my job, I wondered how long it would take me to overcome the rookie pest treatment. It came, over months of hard work, meeting daily deadlines and proving myself.
The day the scanner went off, reporting a big fire, and Knight came bolting in to the newsroom and chose me to be his sidekick, I knew I had arrived.
We later worked together on some really great feature stories, kicking around photo ideas, choosing the layout of the full-page montage. I was later named agriculture editor, and Knight would bring me amazing photography of farm scenes, farmers at work, farm kids playing.
When Knight developed my own roll of shots for a feature layout, saying, “You’re not half bad, kid,” it was like achieving royal coronation. He gave me pointers, improving my photography markedly.
We lived on the same country road, and the gruff, tough Chic Knight spoiled my dogs rotten in later years with his teddy bear kindness that he had kept hidden so well from me in those early years. He used his professional leverage to get in to the hospital nursery to take a great photo of my newborn son, which was published, with congratulations, in two newspapers, much to my happy surprise.
He shared with us his love of model trains, the most impressive miniature mountain train town I’d ever seen, created by him in his basement. When he and his wife Sandy decided to retire, sell their home and travel the country, we bought a few things at their auction and said our good-byes. I have thought of him often and hoped he was happy out there in the world.
The newspaper carried the news that Charles W. Knight died last week at age 72. A photo tribute of his work appeared. His decades of impressive photography will live on throughout this area for many years.
And I count myself one of the lucky ones, given the opportunity to be his sidekick for a moment in time.