Rita Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Rita Howell

‘Picture man’ leaves lasting legacy of service 

I’ll miss John Fleming today. Tuesday was the day he did his Batesville errands.

The longtime editor of the Quitman County Democrat in Marks died of a heart attack on Sunday. He was 68.

On Tuesday mornings he would bring in his newspaper “paste-up” pages to our office where they were processed to go on our press later in the day. He always brought with him a list made by Josephine, his wife and partner in the newspaper business. When he left our office, he headed for Wal-Mart. Many times I’d joked with him about picking up a few things for me, too.

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It hasn’t sunk in yet that he won’t be back.

John and Josephine are an old-school newspaper team. They produce the QCD the way we all used to, by cutting and pasting the pages together. There was something familiar and oddly comforting about seeing John come in each week with a large cardboard “folders” which held the pages that had been carefully composed by John, Josie and Vivian Norris.

Last Thursday’s edition included nine stories and three pictures on the front page, informing Quitman Countians about issues as diverse as the Unity in the Community festival and a case of West Nile virus reported locally.

With The Panolian’s production now done entirely electronically, with pages sent from our iMacs to the pressroom, it’s good to be reminded of the industry’s roots and to see that it can still be done that way.

The Quitman County Democrat is housed in a small building in the heart of Marks. Josie’s dad, Henry Buckley Burns, had been editor from 1938 until his death in 1964. Her mom, Jessie Connerly Burns, edited the newspaper from that time until her death in 1972. At that time John, Josie and their family moved to Marks to take over the family newspaper business.

It seems once he landed in the Delta, John jumped in with both feet, wading into the newspaper work and community service with equal enthusiasm.

He was known as “the picture man” to many in the community who were accustomed to seeing him with camera in hand at local events. Josie said he didn’t turn down many requests when someone called and asked “can you come take a picture?”

He took his job as advocate for his community seriously.

His obituary, published on page A2, gives details of his civic contributions, which included serving as president of the Rotary Club, and working with the Literacy Council, Habitat for Humanity, and the Homeland Security Commission.

“If asked to serve on a project benefiting the community, especially those in need, he did so,” his wife wrote.

I don’t think I’m the only one who will miss John Fleming.