Literate, brilliant, sophisticated — loaded with talent

An ad brought her to my office. She was tall, pushing 50, red-haired, freckled and had a prominent overbite. Yet, there was something very different about the woman with the ordinary name Helen Smith.
My widely cast net in the summer of 1971 called for someone to recreate our then-labeled “society” pages in the Conroe Courier. We were looking for a talent that could brainstorm with us and change the coverage and tone of the newspaper section.
Our idea and vision of the “new” section was to reflect the diverse woman emerging from the shackles of housewifedom, swirling about looking for a challenging place in a rapidly changing social and employment world for the “fairer sex.” The section, we decided, must reflect the woman’s emergence from keeping house, raising kids and waltzing from the “ladies” garden club to the grocery store to preparing a dinner for her husband’s business clients.
A little later in my nomadic journalist’s life, I met a younger, beautiful version of Helen and married her.
Helen charmed me immediately with her intellect, her confidence, her ability and her instant grasp of what I envisioned as The Courier’s version of women’s news. When I described for her the vision I had of an expanded coverage, she exuded a controlled excitement about my ideas and gave an immediate but brief summary of her ideas on the conversion. I was sold.
She came to work and after a brief instruction on how to produce the last few “society” pages while planning the debut of news for the modern woman. Her combination of talent, charm and confidence captivated her fellow newsroom editors and writers.
Helen’s Women’s News lead page debut showcased a feature story, written extraordinarily well and enhanced by a magazine-style layout with large, dramatic pictures rather than the staid block layout of engagements, weddings, teas and clubs. That news moved to the section’s inside pages and the Courier had launched into a new concept heretofore only applied by our larger brethren, er, sisters in the newspaper world.
The response was overwhelmingly favorable, with a few exceptions of stiffly corseted biddies from old money society, whose boring cookie-cutter sameness club “news” had dominated the page previously.
Phone calls of approval poured in, a significant number of them from men. A bank president waved me into his office soon after Helen’s debut and raved to me about how impressed he was with our new format. “I turn to that page first when I get the paper now,” he confessed. He was not alone in the impressive masculine reception and approval of the page.
Negativism came from only a few of the aforementioned stiff-upper lip social mavens.
Ultimately, there was a selfishly motivated, one-man uprising in the newsroom. A talented, but arrogant and self-centered photographer, did most of Helen’s lead page pictures. Once he told Helen he had a conflicting assignment with when she’d arranged her feature photos and that she’d have to re-schedule. Enterprising Helen was not about to upset the subjects of the already-working feature so she did the shoot herself and turned in the film. Side note: her pictures were, not surprisingly, excellent.
When Mr. Arrogance returned from his conflicting shoot and saw Helen’s pictures, he chewed her out so roughly that a usually unflappable Helen was in tears. To do that in the manner he did and, to my new “star,” cocked and spring-loaded me in the ticked-off position. Arrogance steamed into my office, leaned across my desk and growled, “It’s her or me!”

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