“A piece of magic is a hat.”
— Martha Sliter
My first newspaper job placed me in the very center of a wide open newsroom. It was a bustling place, and my placement was by design. I was to float every which way to help reporters, the society page editor, the assistant editor and the managing editor. In my eyes, it was the perfect job to learn the ropes.
“I’m up!” I was to shout loud enough to be heard when I had wrapped up one assignment, and immediately I would be passed another writing or editing project. We were a noon press newspaper, and the deadline was always looming.
I had been hired as area editor in a daily newspaper. People in various communities submitted to me a wide variety of news, covering school program events, community festivals, change of business ownership and human interest stories from various villages throughout our county. This is what I would work on after the paper went to press each day.
Though much of this news arrived by daily mail, there was one particular community reporter who hand-delivered her neatly typed community news to my desk in that loud, bustling newsroom. Helen Payne, an older lady who had been a widow for some time, looked every bit the part of a white-gloved private investigator from a vintage television show.
She demanded quiet perfection from everyone, including herself. She was always, without fail, perfectly dressed in a hat with a matching coat and handbag. She was small, but mighty.
The first time she walked up to my whirling dervish desk and introduced herself, I didn’t have a free minute to spare as I pounded out headlines for the front page. A young reporter brushing past nearly knocked her expensive-looking hat off of her perfectly coiffed head. I apologized on his behalf and asked if I could take her phone number and call her after we went to press that day.
“It won’t be necessary. My writing is in perfect order, checked and double-checked,” she stated without a moment’s hesitation.
In ensuing years, when I was hired by another newspaper as managing editor, I continued to accept submissions from this meticulous lady, and I never had to call to check facts. I enjoyed chatting with her when she hand-delivered her work to me. I never once saw her without a hat.
Recently, a crowd gathered for the auction of her home, where her only son had resided after she passed on. After his death this past September, the family’s personal belongings and real estate was to be sold to the highest bidder.
My husband attended the auction in his hometown community, near New London, Ohio. Everything from antique furniture to toys sold well. I can only imagine the reaction of Helen Payne when the humble 125-acre farm and home brought over $1.2 million.
All I asked for as my husband walked out the door on his way to the auction was a simple hat to remember her by. He does nothing small. He bought me her collection, hat boxes and all. Now I need my own television show to carry on her trademark look, because I can’t think of a single place I can possibly go without looking incredibly over-dressed. I’m working on my pitch for a series.
With a nod of respect to the lady I was honored to know, I will close with the quote she surely lived by.
“A woman is not really dressed unless she is wearing a hat.”
— Virginia Graham
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