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Former editors never really retire

Barry Ginter
Nevada Appeal editor

Sue Morrow told and edited thousands of stories for the Nevada Appeal during nearly 30 years at the paper.She still edits the paper today.

Before she retired as city editor in 1994 she did it because it was a job, one that she loved.

Now she does it because she cares about the quality of the paper to which she devoted so much of her life. Sue e-mails or calls the newsroom to make sure reporters are upholding the standards she expects from a capital city newspaper.

Now, as the new editor at the Appeal, I’ve gratefully added myself to her list.

After we visited at her Carson City home Tuesday, I left with a stack of papers she had marked with red ink. Especially prevalent were violations of capitalization rules (“You do not uppercase titles unless they are in front of a name,” she told me. “You just don’t do it.”)

Sue Morrow tells you what she thinks.

By her own admission, she was a tough editor. But she hopes she is remembered as fair, no matter who dared to push deadline or turn in sloppy writing.

“I chewed everyone out, not just one or two people,” she said. And, for that reason, she knows there are former employees out there who probably don’t remember her fondly.

“I think I grate on people,” she said. “I get too intense.”

She appears to be giving me a grace period. Our sunny afternoon visit was nothing but pleasant.

She told of her first writing job, for a bullfighting magazine in Spain. She interviewed tourists and her payment was a front-row seat. Then she moved to Nevada and began working for the first of 15 editors she’d work for during her tenure here. (It’s like having 15 husbands, she said, noting they all wanted things done differently.)

The first of them was Norb Becker, who talked with a thick German accent and had difficulty conjugating verbs (“his headlines were crazy,” Sue remembered).

The only other person in the newsroom was a society editor who covered teas and club meetings and had a penchant for hats.

“That was our newsroom … Norb, the woman with the funny hats and me.”

She became a city editor in the 1970s, but continued to write and win awards.

Sue still has the hard, cynical edges that shape all good editors, but on some subjects, her passion is so great that her voice changes and becomes young again.

One of those subjects is her career at the Appeal, where every day brought new stories to tell.

“I just loved it so much,” she said. “I get carried away.”

She did it all and covered it all – presidents, governors, senators, celebrities.

But she thrived on breaking news.

An airline crash on Jobs Peak that killed 86 people. It was days before crews could get to the site. Sue made it there too, struggling through waist-deep snow. She remembers the scene, remembers stepping on a hand buried in the snow.

The kidnapping of Frank Sinatra Jr. at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe. She careened up the highway at breakneck speed as the passenger of The Associated Press reporter assigned to Carson City.

Most stories were far smaller in their scope. Many times she dragged herself out of bed after hearing the city’s fire siren. Almost always, they were false alarms or car fires and she’d turn around and go back to bed. Once, she took a chance and ignored the siren, and it turned out to be a lumberyard burning down.

Sometimes, there were stories behind the stories.

The photograph of the cattle drive in front of the Carson Nugget, for example. To explain that one, she talks of a former editor at the paper who left, disgruntled, and started his own paper in Carson City along with two reporters who had left with him. The paper’s mission, she said, seemed to be only to criticize the Appeal, and to copy its stories without attribution.

“He swiped every line I wrote,” she said.

She remembered his mean-spirited criticism in print of one story written by an Associated Press reporter who described Carson City as a place where you wouldn’t be surprised to see a cattle drive come through town.

While it was true there were no cattle drives through town, to Sue Morrow, he had missed the spirit of the words of the AP story. And she saw an opportunity for revenge for that and all of the other slights that had appeared in that rival newspaper.

She called a rancher, Buzzy Andersen, who drove his cattle every year around town to winter range and suggested he take a shorter route that year. Straight through town.

And when he did, she was on hand to take a front-page photograph.

She didn’t see her rival’s reaction, but took some satisfaction when his paper folded within a few years.

There is a wall in Sue’s home office crowded with black-and-white photographs. News photos she took during her career. Photos of her with journalists who worked for or with her.

But the biggest among them is of John Wayne, standing tall and tanned, a Hollywood smile on his face. In his arm, a young woman with a smile as perfect as his. A starlet, a co-star in his latest movie?

No, that’s Sue Morrow. It was taken in Minden in the 1960s after Sue and another reporter got a tip that Wayne had flown in to visit a screenwriter who had a home in the area. The two reporters drove to the airport and waited two hours before the legend burst through the door.

“I jumped up and down just like a damn bobbysoxer,” she remembers.

Toward the end of our visit, after hearing many more stories than are hinted at in this column, it became clear to me that there’s another assignment Sue Morrow needs to complete. She needs to get these stories down on paper, in a local history book.

Trust me, it’s a book you’d enjoy.

I have little doubt I’ll be talking to Sue often in the coming years.

In fact, if there’s even one mistake in this column, I’m sure the phone will be ringing any minute now.

• Barry Ginter is editor for the Nevada Appeal. Contact him at bginter@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1221.