Joe Bob was the STAR’s funny bone
Reba McEntire once said: To succeed in life, you need three things: a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.
If that’s so, Bob Bowling was a success. “Joe Bob,” as he was known to Elizabethton STAR employees, wished every day for something, if it was nothing but biscuits and gravy. And, not a day went by that he did not make us laugh — more than once. And, he laughed a lot, himself.
Joe Bob was a just a simple man — scrawny, toothless, and ugly, some would say. He usually began the week clean-shaven, but by Tuesday or Wednesday, his face was scruffy, and one of his favorite things to do was to pull up his shirt and show the fuzz in his belly button. It was crude, but it was one of those things that brought a smile to most of our faces as we blew him off.
That was who Joe Bob was. He worked at the STAR for more than 40 years, rarely missing a day of work. He worked all hours. Most days he came in early and stayed late, but would usually go home for a lunch break.
A Cat Island boy, Joe Bob began working at the STAR when in high school. He often shared that his first job was taking newspapers to the post office in a wagon which he pulled from the old STAR building, then located in Old Town near the Monument. The post office at that time was located on Sycamore Street, the site of the present-day Elizabethton-Carter County Library.
Another job was emptying the furnace of cinders and sweeping up at the end of the day.
From that job, Joe Bob moved to the pressroom, where he helped operate the press. For the rest of his working career, smudges of ink on his shirt, pants, and often on his face, arms, and hands became his trademark. Joe Bob, like most of us who have worked at the newspaper, got “ink in his blood” and the newspaper became his life’s work.
From the pressroom, he moved to the camera room not long after the STAR switched to off-set printing in the early to mid-1960s. Metal type and ink and arid smoke disappeared from composing rooms, to be replaced by wax and film and the odor of chemicals, and the big camera became a most important instrument in the production of the newspaper. Joe Bob had experienced it all, and he ended up operating that big camera, which was used to make a photo of the finished newspaper page, which was then transformed onto a printing plate for the rotary press.
Joe Bob spent the remainder of his working career in the camera room.
Suzanne Galyon, who worked for a period of time with Bob in the camera room, shared that Bob really liked his job and enjoyed working. “Not only did he make it fun for himself, but he made it fun for me. He was always doing something to make you laugh. He was serious about his job, but not about life,” Suzanne said.
One of her favorite memories of working with Joe Bob was one summer when they would be waiting on Saturday night deadline, they would go for banana popsicles. “We were riding in my convertible truck and were stopped at a traffic light, eating our popsicles, when the horn blows in a car next to us. It was Charlie (Robinson, then publisher). He said, ‘You better be off the clock,’ and then he laughed.”
Another story that everyone told was a time when some special red ink was ordered for a specific ad, and Joe Bob used it to pull a trick on Inez McAnally, the STAR bookkeeper. The ink looked just like blood and Joe Bob put his hand in the ink, and pulled it out with the ink dripping. He sent for Miss Mack and she was told that Bob had gotten his hand caught in the press. An older lady, when she saw his hand and the red ink dripping from it, she fainted. Knowing Miss Mack, I’m sure Bob got a tongue-lashing when she came to.
Another favorite story was when Joe Bob would climb upon a filing cabinet in the composing room to change the calendar every month. He always paused while atop the filing cabinet to sing “Zachaeus was a wee little man.” One day, while atop the filing cabinet, singing the song, a salesman came through the room on his way to Elmer Bowling’s office. He was quite amused and just shook his head in disbelief.
Bob was notorious for his antics. He wore slip-on tennis slippers and had a knack for making himself sneeze. And, when he sneezed, he simultaneously kicked a slipper through the air, especially if someone was watching.
Often, when a new employee came to work in the composing room, Joe Bob walked around, pretending a dog was with him. The employee usually thought she had messed up by coming to work at the STAR.
Once Bob messed up and inserted the wrong photo on the front page of an out-of-town newspaper the STAR printed. Most of the papers had been run when the mistake was discovered. Joe Bob, of course, had to lick his calf over and and another press run was made. Mr. R., furious with Joe Bob, made him an appointment to have his eyes checked. A few days later he came to work with a pair of glasses, which, more often than not, could be found hanging on a nail in the camera room.
One of my favorite memories of Bob was when I got my dentures, Bob who had dentures, but never wore them, went home and came back with his dentures in, which he wore that day. He insisted we have our picture made together, which we did, and it is among my treasured photos — and memories.
Bob was kind, loving, and he never aspired to be anything great. He was satisfied just to be who he was. From the time that I knew him until he died, he lived in public housing, drove an older-model car, but kept it shining. At times I’ve seen him use his handkerchief to clean a dirty spot on his car.
Joe Bob loved his wife and children. And, he was loyal to the Robinsons as long as he worked for them, and Joe Bob, too, was special to them.
Delaney Scalf, STAR General Manager, recalls living beside Joe Bob when he and his siblings were growing up. “When it rained in the summer, he would shed his shirt and get a bar of soap and go out in the rain and pretend to scrub himself down. He did it just to make my dad, who was sick at the time, laugh,” Delaney shared. “Other times he would throw trash in the yard and would tell my dad, we kids did it just to get my dad to fuss at us.”
Delaney noted that Bob helped him get his job at the STAR.
Joe Bob retired from the STAR in the late 1990s. And, for a time he came often to visit — and to make us laugh.
Everyone that worked with Joe Bob has a story to tell. Just as the ink leaves an indelible impression on newsprint, Joe Bob made an impression on all of us. To him, life was something to be sneezed at, and every day had its share of antics and laughs.
Joe Bob died June 23 at the age of 88. He leaves behind a wife and three children, his newspaper friends, and so many memories that made us laugh and wish for those days again, when we were family and the newspaper was not struggling to survive.
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