Many of us old timers in the news business dreamed of owning and running our own newspaper. Few of us ever did. Eugene Harter had that dream and made it come true.
Gene had been a newspaperman in suburban Chicago before taking a job with a company that made web offset presses. He traveled around the country helping small newspapers convert from old “hot type” to the new “cold type” offset system, a relatively new printing process for newspapers in the early 1960s. John Kennedy had inspired many people to seek to live out their dreams, and Gene was no exception. Appropriately, Dorothy’s first chapter is titled “Searching for Camelot.”
In his travels, Gene heard of a weekly paper for sale in Campbellsville, Ky. He bought the paper and he and his family moved there in 1962. Mountain Editor is the story of those four years in Taylor County as told by Gene’s wife, Dorothy, and taken largely from the columns he wrote for the newspaper as he battled for racial integration, new roads, good schools, and many other things.
I first met Gene a few years after his Campbellsville interlude when he was the press officer for the U.S. Consulate in São Paulo, Brazil, in the early 1970s. I was the correspondent in charge of the Associated Press bureau there. Our friendship continued until his death Dec. 13, 2010.
Gene’s story, as told so well and beautifully by Dorothy, is a profile in courage. He was not intimidated by those who vilified him for his support of equal rights for all regardless of race. He confronted local politicians when he thought they were wrong, even if it meant losing advertising. But most of all, we see in this book a man who was having a great time living out his dream. His good humor and positive attitude come shining through in those long-ago editorials and columns. Gene and Dorothy were a couple who truly loved life and lived it to the fullest, wherever they were.
Did the Harters find “Camelot” in the hills of Kentucky? You’ll have to read the book and decide for yourself.
While in Kentucky, they bought a house boat and took family excursions on it on the weekends on the Kentucky River. Later on, when Gene was assigned to the State Department in Washington, D.C., the family lived on a houseboat on the Potomac River until they retired and moved to Chestertown, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, taking the houseboat with them but living in a beautiful old house near the center of town. The family included their four children, Ann, Butch, David, and Melissa. Melissa was born while they still lived in Campbellsville.
Dorothy writes that that Gene had intended to write a book about his experiences under this same title, Mountain Editor. I’m glad she was able to complete the work for him. Gene wrote two other books, Lost Colony of the Confederacy (available at Amazon.com for $17.96) and Boilerplating America (out of print, but I see that new copies can be bought online for $87.75). Lost Colony is perhaps the best book available about the mass migration of Southern Americans to Brazil following the Civil War. Mountain Editor is also available at Amazon.com for $10.48.
After four years, Gene was encouraged by many in his Kentucky district to run for Congress. He thought it would not be ethical to run as the owner of a newspaper, so he accepted an offer and sold the paper. He lost the race, but gained a new chapter in his life that took him around the world to places like Beirut, Mexico City, and São Paulo.
I had encouraged Dorothy to write this book because I strongly believed Gene’s story should be told. She has done a great job in doing just that.
Mountain Editor: Trials and Triumphs of a Small Town Editor, by Dorothy Harter, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (October, 2013), 182 pp.