By: E&P Staff
William Lamar “Cooter Bill” Thompson, long-time employee of The Star-Herald, a CNHI weekly in Kosciusko, Miss., died Aug. 22. He was 71, and had worked at the paper since his high school days.
After working 53 years at the paper, Thompson retired two years ago because of poor health, according to a notice on starherald.net, which included memories shared by co-workers.
Thompson had a hand in typesetting, page makeup, and printing. He also handled repairs, took occasional news photos, and delivered the paper to retailers and the post office after sorting by route and bagging copies.
People & Events Editor Nancy Green remembered “conversations about hot metal, cut and paste, Linotype, scan-o-gravers, letterpress… and other details” that left co-workers puzzled.
Former owner, editor and publisher W.C. “Dub” Shoemaker recalled that “Kooter Bill,” or KB as he was then known, helped out with hot-lead linecasting from his earliest days at the Star-Herald, eventually mastering the Linotype and operating it full time until the paper switched to offset printing and photochemical platemaking, in 1969.
Shoemaker added that Thompson was joined at the paper for a while by his two sisters, and that his brother “spent his career” at The Greenwood Commonwealth, an Emmerich Newspapers daily about 60 mils away.
Mississippi Press Association President Layne Bruce, a former publisher and editor of the Star-Herald, wrote that he’d “never seen anyone assemble — in the traditional, cut-and-paste sense — a newspaper page faster. He truly was a master craftsman of that lost trade.” Yet after conversion to full digital production within the past 10 years, Thompson had become “as adept at computer production as he had been at the old school ways.” Bruce said, echoing Green’s remarks.
“He had a tremendous, non-stop work ethic: Pulling long nights in composing and then double duty the next day on a delivery route filling newsracks across three counties with copies of the newspaper,” Bruce wrote. “My fondest memory, though, despite his occasional lapses of curmudgeonly behavior, was his ultimate answer to any issue we threw at him: ‘No problem!'”
Having heard “stories about near-misses with hammers and pica poles being flung during fits of rage over the years,” Mark Thornton, Star-Herald editor until three years ago and sports editor in the 1990s, “was afraid he’d been working on his aim – just in case I pushed him over the edge. Now editor and publisher of The ReView of Jones County, Thornton continued: “Really, I couldn’t have blamed him. I wasn’t much of a co-worker; I was more like someone he had to baby-sit. After all, when I arrived, he had been working at the Star-Herald twice as long as I’d been alive. All I knew were words; he knew everything else about the newspaper business….”
During Thornton’s and Thompson’s last years at the Star-Herald, the former boss occasionally had to make the deliveries to dozens of stops on the 300-mile route himself after working all day and night. All he got, he wrote, wherever he went, were disappointed looks and the question “where’s Cooter Bill?!”
Thornton concluded: “It’s impossible to know just how many lives he touched in 50-plus years at the same community newspaper in which hundreds of the higher-profile workers have come and gone over the years. Every strong organization needs a backbone like Cooter Bill. But with declining work forces – and even more rapidly declining work ethics – don’t count on it. The kind of loyalty, dedication and sense of responsibility he showed over the last half-century is something that will, unfortunately, be buried alongside him. And when those of his generation are gone, we too will ask, “Where is Cooter Bill?”