I’ve been thinking about Bob Wright, the legendary Commercial-News reporter/editor/columnist, historian, civic leader and all-around great guy.
He was my hero years before we ever met and became friends. I’m sure that reading his stuff helped get me interested in local history and writing for newspapers.
Bob died July 7, 1988. at age 72. I wrote the Page One feature obituary that day and I attended his funeral. Last week, I was reminded, once again, of his talent, hard work and lifelong love of Danville, his hometown.
While browsing at Glory Daze, the Vermilion Street antiques and collectibles shop, I spotted some yellowed copies of the April 5, 1966, Commercial-News, still in their torn, 53-year-old plastic bags. I bought all six. I just had to save them. That’s what we “history nuts” were born to do.
They were copies of the keepsake “Centennial Edition” that marked the 100th anniversary of the launch of The Danville Commercial. The 208-page centennial edition was the largest in C-N history. Bob Wright, who was the C-N’s editorial page editor at the time, spent a year writing and editing hundreds of stories and selecting photos for it. It was a remarkable labor of love.
The regular paper that day totaled 20 broadsheet pages. The centennial material added 188 pages. Each 208-page edition weighed three pounds, and delivering it probably killed or crippled several paper boys. The special edition required 85 tons of newsprint and 2,500 pounds of ink. Some 55,000 copies were sold, including 18,000 mail orders sent in from across the United States.
Bob noted that if the photos and stories in each 188-page edition were put together to create one regular newspaper column, that column would stretch one-fifth of a mile, and “that’s six times higher than Bresee Towers, Danville’s tallest building.”
Because old newspapers crumble, it would be great if someone could put the Centennial Edition into permanent book form. It presents the history of Danville’s newspapers, of course, but also includes the stories of local communities, organizations, businesses and people. In many ways, it’s a time capsule from 1966, too, featuring ads for businesses and industries now gone.
As an 11-year-old in 1966, I was proud to find within it photos of two of my great-great-grandfathers — newspaper editor R. H. Johnson and building contractor L. M. Moore.
Bob Wright was hired by the C-N as a reporter in 1939, and, apart from WWII service, he spent his entire career at the paper. He loved local history, and he was the perfect person to tackle the project. Much of the information in the Centennial Edition would be hard to find anywhere else.
I especially enjoyed the “fillers,” little tidbits pulled from long-ago news stories.
Here’s an example from The Commercial of 1867: “Right in front of a whiskey shop in Schroeder’s Block there is now a good well and a new pump. We advise all to patronize the pump and stay outside of the dram shop.”
Thanks, Bob … gone, but not forgotten.
Danville native Kevin Cullen is a former Commercial-News reporter. Reach him at email@example.com