Best part of conventions: unplanned bull sessions

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 1, 2000

(Editor's Note: The effort, below, was penned in late spring, 1993. It summarizes some of the goings-on at newspaper conventions.)

The best part of any convention, I'm here to tell you, is found in the unlisted, unplanned bull sessions that just "happen."

Last weekend's Alabama Press Association Spring Conference, an annual event, was no exception.

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It was the first such observance attended by your correspondent since his self-inflicted semi-retirement from the newspaper profession circa 1980.

Stumbled up on many of the old compadres from the long ago and thereby hangs this tale.

Luminaries from past associations, embodied in the persons of Tom and Sue Johnson, Milo Dakin, Glenda and Hollis Curl, Bill Keller, the brothers Sutton (Robert and Goodloe), Mike Breedlove, Brad English and Jim Boone, among others, were very much in evidence at various set-tos during the two-day affair.

Several interesting episodes in the lives of the above were reviewed and relived with relish as they harkened back to many daring experiences that would make today's cub reporter blanch with fear and trembling.

As evidence of this, we cite photographer Phil Sheffield's

active participation in the Dale Penthouse holocaust on the day following his affiliation with The Advertiser's Service Engraving Dept.

After that tragedy, which resulted in the deaths of 26 humans, Phil was told that "if you have a spark of dedication to duty, you'll follow the trail of the fire's survivors and get candid shots from ten stories up as

you circle the building as they did, on a two-foot ledge."

Though the directive was offered in a matter-of-fact, take-it-or-leave-it tone, Phil not only complied as he risked life and limb as he trod the ledge more than 100 feet above Court and Clayton Streets, but he came up with Pulitzer quality photos from that dizzying height.

Tom Johnson, the sharpest editorial writer in this or any other world, admitted at one point in Saturday night's

deliberations that he indeed had authored most of the Askalon series for The Advertiser. That series was perhaps the top editorial effort rolled off any press anywhere.

Tom is possessed of a keen wit, one that pierces to the heart of any issue he lays his hand to, much as anti-tank weaponry lays waste to inch-thick armor plating like a sharp knife slices through melted butter.

Milo Dakin, at one time an ace in investigative reporting, and now a top dog in the area of legislative lobbying, added much spice to the bull sessions as he regaled us with many of his derring-do exploits from the past.

Glenda Curl, no shrinking violet when it comes to newspapering, authored many of the outstanding courtroom scenes

as they unfolded in the murder trial of the late Probate Judge Bill Dannelly's adopted son, who slaughtered him (the judge) as he slept.

During the Saturday night session, Tom Johnson got off the best shot of the entire weekend when someone asked him what sort of machine he used when writing his editorials.

"I just do it with my good old Smith & Wesson typewriter," he equipped without hesitation.

Tom does shoot from the hip and asks for no quarter.

There'll be more later, as space permits, about newspapering yesterday and today.