When her job as a waitress was jeopardized by a car wreck that badly injured her arm, Joyce Hathcock began checking the local newspaper for a new line of work. In 1982, that local newspaper would offer her a position in sales, a job that became a spring board to a 36-year career in the community newspaper industry.
In late December, that career came to a close for Hathcock, ending a run that spanned decades as a guiding force at the Mineola Monitor and later the Wood County Monitor. Along the way, she forged relationships with city leaders, editors, reporters, sales people and scores of readers, who Hathcock always received with a warm hello and a cheery smile.
Hathcock, 74, recounted how her relationship with the Monitor first began. After the car accident, she was home convalescing and searching for a job that didn’t require extensive use of her injured arm.
“I happened to see in the paper that they were asking for an employee, and I answered it,” she recalled, noting that Dan Peacock was running the paper at the time. “I knew I had to work because I had four kids. I did not want to have to drive to Tyler because I didn’t want to be that far away from the kids. So I was looking for work here, and he hired me.”
She sold advertising for Peacock, but a pair of new owners bought the paper and one of them took the sales job. Hathcock’s primary role became that of receptionist – and other duties as assigned. “Like you do with all small papers, you do a little bit of everything,” she said.
Later, her duties and responsibilities grew with her promotion to business manager, where she handled everything from the Monitor’s billing to its banking. In the late 1990s, J. Tom Graham recognized her command of the business side and gave her the demanding position of publisher. At one point she oversaw newspapers in Mineola, Quitman, Grand Saline and Lindale.
Over the years, she worked with many talented journalists and recalls with a smile the day one of them, a fellow named Gary Edwards, walked into her office.
“I said, ‘Can I help you?’ And he said, ‘I think I can help you,’ which is typical Gary.” But as the discussion unfolded, Edwards, with a sense of urgency, revealed his true motive. “He said, ‘I need a job or my wife’s going to throw me out,” Hathcock said laughing. She quickly added that Edwards “went on to be absolutely wonderful.”
No colleague was closer to Hathcock than former longtime editor Doris Newman, now the city’s Main Street Program director, whose own career at the Monitor dovetailed with Hathcock’s.
“I saw how people in the community embraced Joyce in her role in the newspaper,” Newman said. “Many of them would come in asking just to talk to her, sit down at her desk and tell her all their troubles. Since she had been there the longest, she knew how things worked better than anybody and could ensure whatever was brought in would get in the paper.”
The two were colleagues as well as confidants who shared the trials and tribulations of raising children, and life’s joys and sorrows.
“Personally, you learn a lot about people when you work together as long as we did,” Newman said. “You spend more time with them than you do with your spouse or family. We shared a lot of laughter and tears, changes in ownership, comings and goings and everything in between. Joyce has a fantastic sense of humor and will do anything for you if she knows you need her help. She used to joke that if she died and went to hell – the sign over the door would say ‘Circulation.’ I always said if I ever were in a foxhole with someone – I’d want it to be her.”
The waitress turned publisher also earned the respect of colleagues in the East Texas community newspaper industry. Hathcock received the Sam C. Holloway Award from the North and East Texas Press Association in 2008 for her longtime contributions to community newspapers.
Hathcock speaks with pride of the work done through the years at the Monitor. On its walls hang more 30 award plaques for newspapering excellence. And she knows that her position as publisher opened doors to many interesting experiences, such as encounters with people like former President George W. Bush.
“Doris and I always felt like we were putting out a good paper, and we worked hard to do that. I was always proud of the paper,” Hathcock said.
Throughout years of unrelenting change, Hathcock’s presence at the paper provided familiarity and stability.
Said Newman: “Joyce is ever alert and watchful and was the ‘boots on the ground’ for owners who weren’t present, which was most of them during our time at the paper. … She could always come up with a good idea for a story and the few times she did write columns, she got a lot of positive feedback from them. While I know it wasn’t easy for her, she made it look easy.”
Writing was one thing. Adjusting to the computer age was another.
“The thing that nearly put me in the nut house is computers,” Hathcock said laughing. “Like a lot of people my age, it’s been a real struggle and always will be. We didn’t have the (foundation) for it. But I’ve managed to learn to use it, but there’re a lot of things I can’t do.”
She may not miss her computer, but Hathcock will miss all the people who came with the job.
“I’ve worked with some wonderful people,” she said, adding that she’ll also miss the readers who stopped in from time to time to pay their subscription, drop off a notice or just chew the fat.
“I enjoy it when I see people – maybe just once or twice a year. They’re always glad to see me and I’m glad to see them,” Hathcock said.
Through her long tenure, the mission of the Monitor was always to help improve Mineola and support its growth, Hathcock said. Although she lived on the outskirts of Grand Saline, she said she never once felt like an outsider. Quite the opposite, she observed.
“Mineola’s been wonderful to me.”