Remembering Mary Lou Chadwick
The sad news of Camptown resident Mary Lou Chadwick’s passing on Monday of this week brought back a flurry of memories of the days when Mary Lou worked here at the Rocket-Courier office.
Mary Lou was among a core group of employees who helped ease my transition as editor after my father, Bill Keeler, passed away in 1980.
Her primary job was receptionist, but Mary Lou did far more than that, including proofreading, helping with the billing and maintaining subscription records.
Mary Lou was the perfect person to greet people and when they came in the front door she was usually the first person customers would meet.
One time a customer made a comment about what a nice face Mary Lou gave to our business. She was friendly and gracious and was one of those rare people who have a knack for putting others at ease.
Not everyone who came in our front door was happy, and Mary Lou’s charming personality often played a huge role in getting irate readers calmed down.
I remember one incident when a burly logger stormed into our office to complain about something he’d read in our paper. “I want to see the editor,” he boomed. “Where’s Keeler?”
Instead of being intimidated by this guy, Mary Lou began asking him questions about how his wife and kids were doing. “You know them?” the guy replied. The conversation continued and the once-angry man gradually began to wind down to the point where when he entered my office he was embarrassed over how he had barged into our building. Meanwhile, I’d had time to brace for a tongue-lashing but it never happened, thanks to Mary Lou.
Mary Lou was also an expert at helping free me from people who apparently didn’t have much to do other than waste my time, especially during our deadline on Wednesday afternoons.
I remember one time when a Camptown area resident, whom I’ll call simply Pete, just wouldn’t leave my office, despite several hints from me that I was working on deadline and really needed to get back to work. Pete, who liked to refer to himself as the last of the mountain men, was spinning this yarn about how Johnny Cash had stolen most of his hit songs from him. I quietly listened trying to come up with a way that I could exit without insulting Pete, who along with being a colorful character, also had a rather explosive temper.
Then the phone on my desk rang and when I answered it was Mary Lou. “I’m just calling to remind you that you’re late for a photo at the high school,” she said. I took a deep breath, stood up and told Pete that I had to run down to the high school to snap a photo and that I was late. Pete stood up, said a quick goodbye and headed out the door. I grabbed my camera and headed for the back of the building where my car was parked.
“Hold on a minute, Dave,” Mary Lou shouted. I stopped and walked back to her desk. That’s when she explained that there was no photo at the school and that her phone call to me had been an old trick that she and my father had often used when he’d found himself in similar situations, and as fate would have it, often with Pete.
I smiled at Mary Lou and thanked her. Meanwhile, she reached under the front counter and produced a can of Lysol that she began spraying pretty much everywhere that Pete had been. You see, Pete and personal hygiene were not close friends, and Mary Lou had learned from experience that even though Pete had left the building, he never was completely gone until she got out the Lysol.
Over the years there were dozens of times when the phone on my desk would ring after Mary Lou sensed that someone had me pinned to my desk. Sometimes she would simply ask, “Need some help?”
And others have learned from Mary Lou’s example. Not long ago, Diana Lamb sensed I was in one of those predicaments and called my office phone to see if I needed an exit plan.
So you see, even though it’s been years since Mary Lou has worked here at the Rocket-Courier, some of the things she started are still with us.
And as far as I know, that can of Lysol under the front counter disappeared not long after the last of the mountain men passed away.