I was introduced to Gary Abernathy, the publisher and editor of The (Hillsboro) Times-Gazette, twice. My first introduction came through his writing, particularly his “Did I ever tell you my Roy Rogers story?”
The second, more formal introduction came through his wife, Lora, who was editor of the Wilmington News Journal at the time.
One afternoon, I came across Gary’s delightful “Roy story” and have been a big fan of his writing ever since.
Gary wrote about the time he was the editor in Portsmouth, Ohio and had heard the famous cowboy actor, Roy Rogers, was visiting his sister in Portsmouth. Gary said he wanted to interview Roy, but the “King of the Cowboys” put him off at first, wanting to keep his visit with his sister private.
After some gentle coaxing by Gary, Roy relented and soon Gary was knocking on the sister’s front door. Roy was relaxing in a chair and politely answered Gary’s questions and made small talk. Gary went on to tell a delightful story, and … let’s use Gary’s words here to relate what happened.
“Then, Cleda brought out some scrapbooks, and we spent the rest of the visit leafing through the pages with Roy as our guide. When he came to photos of his famous and beloved horse, Trigger, Roy’s eyes moistened, and he said quietly, “That Trigger was some horse.”
“Throughout my career I have met a lot of famous people, many of whom would probably be more impressive to some of you than Roy Rogers. But not to me.”
“Finally, Steve and I made our way out the front door, and Roy and his sister stepped out onto the stoop to bid us farewell. And as God is my witness, Roy broke into a chorus of ‘Happy Trails’ as he waved goodbye.”
“Happy trails, Roy Rogers, happy trails.”
I was hooked. I have read about every column he has written since, and find the easy ebb and flow, conversational tone, and construction of his writing exceptional. Regardless of the subject, he gives the feeling he is sitting in a chair across from the listener having an informal chat.
As newspaper editor and publisher, Gary has written on a variety of issues that impact readers locally, and obviously, nationally, too.
In the spring of this year Gary received an email, which he thought someone had sent him as a practical joke. The heading said it was from the Washington Post.
It turns out it was not a joke. The Post had been following Gary’s columns, too, and was just as impressed as the rest of us.
During last year’s presidential election, Gary and the Times-Gazette had endorsed Donald Trump for president.
Newspapers endorse political candidates all the time. What caught the eye of the Washington Post was the idea that the Times-Gazette was one of only six newspapers to endorse Donald Trump.
As Gary said, “Not one of six in Ohio — one of six in the entire nation.”
Soon after Gary received the email, he received several follow-up phone calls from the hierarchy at the Post wanting him to write an occasional article for the newspaper.
Gary thought their interest might be one of amusement, much like the Iowa farmer, or the woman who collected potato chips, who occasionally appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. They were curiosities.
What would make anyone endorse Donald Trump, the Post wondered?
Then, something interesting began to happen. The more Gary has written, the more in demand his articles have become with the “enlightened” within the DC Beltway.
Writing for the Washington Post is the equivalent of playing Major League Baseball or lining up for the NFL. Many are called, but few are chosen.
Gary’s family, his friends, his newspaper, and his town are proud of him.
Regardless of your political persuasion, if you have the opportunity, read his columns at the Post website called “When your liberal aunt shows up at Thanksgiving in Trump country.” Just enjoy the good writing.
He will make you proud.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.