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April 25, 1995

They say you always remember what you were doing when momentous news events occur. I was having a Coke at Brownie's drug store on Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. I was leaving for the Progress club's benefit coffee at the library last Wednesday when a radio news reporter announced the bomb explosion in Oklahoma City. Laura and I were on the way to Edmond last Friday when the story of bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh's capture in Perry was revealed on a radio newscast. Such things are permanently etched in my memory and I know you have your own lasting, vivid thoughts of those moments. The Pearl Harbor disaster marked the loss of innocence for this nation. Likewise the Oklahoma City tragedy wiped away the blissful, innocent notions of security held by those of us in this state. None of us will ever look at things the way we did before last Wednesday.

But I want to write about another incident from last week. On Friday afternoon on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma, professional news people gathered to bestow a singular honor upon one of our town's favorite citizens. Milo Wayne Watson was formally inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame. His peers chose him for this award along with eight more of the state's distinguished newsmen and women. The Hall of Fame is sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists at UCO in cooperation with the Oklahoma professional chapters of SPJ and the Oklahoma Press Association.

It is ironic that Milo was being whisked away from this city to receive the journalism award at almost the precise time when a story of international importance was breaking right here in his hometown. The Timothy McVeigh incident was the hottest thing on the newswire that day. It was the story of the decade, perhaps the biggest thing to happen here news-wise -- since the opening of the Cherokee Strip on Sept. 16, 1893. Milo was pleased with his award, naturally, but I suspect he was secretly wishing he was back in Perry to supervise the coverage of such historic news.

I've known Milo more than 50 years. I was a very raw cub reporter for this newspaper when he arrived here from Buffalo, Oklahoma, way out west. W. K. Leatherock, then publisher of The Journal, hired him away from the best weekly newspaper in the state, The Harper County News, published by Ed Lee. As I learned in time, Milo was almost part of Mr. Lee's family and they maintained a close relationship for many years, until Mr. Lee's death. Mr. Lee had a young son, Bobby, who is now one of the senior editors at The Daily Oklahoman, where our own Perry product, Ed Kelley, is managing editor. Bob and Ed nominated Milo for the Hall of Fame.

Milo came here as the PDJ's advertising manager to succeed Virgil Sherrod. Actually, when Virgil left Perry Mr. Leatherock hired at least two other men for the job but neither could quite cut it. Milo was the right man for the position and today he is publisher of this newspaper.

Merle Edwards was circulation manager, Wendell Gottschall was an advertising solicitor, Harry Jones was foreman of the print shop, Harry DeLashmutt was bookkeeper, Francis Thetford was managing editor, Jane Schneider was a columnist and women's editor, Buck Lee and Peary Gaskill were Linotype operators, Charlie Armstrong was a floorman in the print shop, Walter Baker was pressman, and Gene Taylor was helping with city circulation. Those were some of the other PDJ staff members at that time. Some of you may remember all of them. They were a colorful collection of characters who still seem very real and alive to me and, I am sure, to Milo as well.

Since his arrival here, Milo has devoted his life to making this a better place to live. He has supported, promoted and/or conceived every good project that has come along during that time. It has been said that if Milo supports something, it has to be good for this community, and that consensus has ensured the success of any number of local projects. Following the death of Mr. Leatherock in 1949, Milo became publisher of The Journal. He has been sole owner of the paper since purchasing Mrs. Leatherock's interest in 1972.

The loss of his beloved Anne to cancer in 1987 after more than 50 years of marriage was a major blow, but he has found comfort and warmth in his daughters, Carolyn and Mary Lee; his five outstanding grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. All of them adore him.

He was named Perry's outstanding citizen in 1982 and if we had a local Hall of Fame he would be in that, too. He would be the first to agree that Perry has many unique men and women who have shared their energy, talent and other gifts to make this the best small town in America. One of our special good fortunes is having a daily newspaper and a publisher like Milo Watson.

Thanks from all of us, Milo, and don't you dare change one word in this column.