Bob Thomas: English teacher’s help later led to role as columnist
“There are no dull subjects. There are only dull writers” — H. L. Mencken
Several times a year, people ask me how in the world my opinions get published by a newspaper when it’s obvious by my resume that being a writer wasn’t intentional.
Well, in high school my homeroom teacher, Mamie Krythe, was also my English teacher, so I had nowhere to hide. I know I didn’t show any outstanding talent in her English class, but for some reason Mamie was determined that I was going to get a good grade if it killed both of us. And this went double for writing essays.
Of course, during those years, in 1941-43, none of us high school boys took school very seriously because we all knew that immediately upon graduation we would belong to Uncle Sam for the duration of World War II. In 1943, when I turned 17, I joined the Army Air Corps, although I wouldn’t be inducted until my 18th birthday.
Mamie was a spinster, as were most lady teachers, and we were her only kids. War or no war, we were going to leave Woodrow Wilson High School speaking and writing proper English.
So I have Mamie to thank or blame for whatever I am as a writer. And when I sometimes forget, Sam Bauman, also a columnist for this newspaper, brutally reminds me when he proofreads my columns. Then if it gets past the editors, you can bet I’ve been purified and my column should be readable.
Yes, necessity is still the mother of invention. And that’s exactly how it happened when I founded my high-tech instrument company, UNI-LOC, in 1964. Because our electronic instruments required three engineering disciplines plus manufacturing and business skills, I added four known partners, rounding out the core group that took us well into the entrepreneurial phase.
Having zero money, we all had to wear more than one hat. Besides being CEO and the mechanical engineer, I got stuck writing our literature, operation, maintenance and installation manuals, ads, new product releases and business correspondence. Using an Olympia electric typewriter, I taught myself to type with minimum errors and erasures, composing and typing business correspondence simultaneously. With no secretary or stenographer, I was all we had.
Years later, after selling the company, I retired to Carson City and occasionally submitted articles to the Nevada Appeal. They were always published. That was 41 years ago. Over those years I must have authored several dozen columns for at least six successive editors. Sue Morrow, who was a superb city editor all those years, was like Mamie Krythe. If I could get my essays past Sue, I felt like I’d gotten an “A” in Mamie’s class.
Then in the 1990s I was a weekly guest on a radio talk show, KPTL, along with Rev. Ken Haskins and Jeff Ackerman, the new publisher of the Appeal. Jeff asked if I’d like to write a weekly column and I said, “Sure, why not?” I also was the Appeal’s “secret weapon” during two legislative sessions. Being a past legislator, I had access to back-room scuttlebutt.
I’ve been writing weekly again for about a year and a half, and I believe it’s time for me to back off and begin writing every other week. It’s not that I’m tired of writing or that I’m having writer’s block. Never! But I’ve got a lot on my plate and need more time to think.
Bob Thomas is an author and a retired high-tech industrialist who served on the Carson City School Board, the Nevada Welfare Board and the Carson City Airport Authority and as a three-term state assemblyman. His website is http://www.confessionsofthe entrepreneur.com.