Webb recalls ‘research adventure’ in stories of author, journalist

 

By Kevin Spradlin
PeeDeePost.com

More on Robert Ruark
* A Man of Startling Contrasts
* Robert Ruark Society

ROCKINGHAM — Robert Ruark died in 1965 at the young age of 49.

But what a life he led.

During his time as a reporter and columnist at the Hamlet News Messenger in the summer of 1935 to following in the footsteps of Ernest Hemingway on African safaris, the bestselling novelist’s life was “wide open,” said Olivia Webb, full of “drinkin’, galavantin’-type years.”

Robert Chester Ruark Jr. in a photo by GoodReads.com

Robert Chester Ruark Jr. in a photo by GoodReads.com

Ruark was, Webb said, “a real man’s man,” who died in July 1965 in London, England, from cirrhosis of the liver brought on by alcoholism.

Webb presented her research on the Wilmington native Monday night during the Richmond County Historical Society’s monthly meeting. Webb learned of Ruark as an intern at the Richmond County Daily Journal. Her editor handed her a news release in April 2009 when it was learned that Ruark was to be inducted into the North Carolina Journalism Hall of Fame.

“‘Make it local,'” Webb remembers hearing from her boss.

That was the beginning of her “little research adventure,” Webb said.

Of course, making it local was easier said than done when the subject was long gone and so, too, were many of his cohorts. But with help from fellow Daily Journal writers Tom MacCallum and Catherine Monk, Webb made a new friend in Neal Cadieu Jr. Cadieu’s uncle, Roy Cadieu, managed the Hamlet newspaper at the time and was of great help in pointing the young journalist in the right direction.

The project turned into somewhat of a gift, Webb said. Working for a local newspaper, “you get to rediscover things. If you’re lucky like me … you’ll feel you’ve gotten to know and relate to someone that you’ve never met.”

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com Olivia Webb shares her research on Robert Ruark Monday night during the Richmond County Historical Society's monthly meeting.

Kevin Spradlin | PeeDeePost.com
Olivia Webb shares her research on Robert Ruark Monday night during the Richmond County Historical Society’s monthly meeting.

Webb read freely from 10 columns Ruark typed out for the Hamlet News Messenger between June 20 and Aug. 29, 1935. Webb was surprised time and again at how many of the issues on which Ruark covered in his opinion pieces — from young people proactively engaged in the issues of the day, to race relations, then to being a young professional arriving (late) to the office after a night of partying.

In his debut column of “The Back Door,” Ruark rote about the Junior Chamber of Commerce: “We hadn’t run across such an organization before, and were frankly astonished that young people should display so much civic pride and such diligence in improving their town. Where we come from, the young folk consider it silly or sissy or something to show any interested whatsoever in civic doings.”

On July 18, Ruark wrote of being late to work. He was apprehensive to say the least because it wasn’t the first time.

“Just was we feared, it’s ten o’clock, and a slightly sick and weak sensation in the pit of the stomach notifies us that we’re late to work again. There is no sensation quite like it. You’re fairly sure that you won’t be fired, but just the same those last few steps into the office, under the censure-filled eyes of those who got there on time, must be comparable in a small degree to the way a condemned man feels on that final stumble down the aisle to the chair.”

Webb noted that Ruark wasn’t afraid to try new things — new writing styles, new opinions.

“You have to put yourself out there and try new things,” she said.

Of course, Ruark was criticized for some of his work, and many of his opinions. On a certain writing style, “it wasn’t a great idea. He was trying a new idea. He thought it was cute” but in a later column, trashed the approach and started anew.

But the willingness to try was something that set Ruark apart. It’s what “made him a great writer,” Webb said. “He wasn’t afraid to try.”

Filed in: Education, Featured News, Latest Headlines, News, Rockingham

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