Attended the retirement reception last Friday for longtime Floyd Press editor Wanda Combs, who retired after more than 40 years on the job.
Her retirement came more than 50 years after I attended the retirement ceremony of former Press owner, editor and publisher Pete Hallman.
Pete gave me a job at the Press as a reporter and photographer during my sophomore year at Floyd County High School. His wife, Ruth, was my English and journalism teacher at FCHS. Both of them recommended me to Roanoke Times state editor Fred Loeffler for my first fulltime daily newspaper job that began the day after I graduated from high school in 1965.
Hallman sold the paper to Joe Slocum in the late 1960s and he and his family relocated to Xenia, Ohio.
Combs joined the Press in 1973, hired by owner Bill Sumner, who bought it from the Galax Gazette owners a few years earlier from Slocum. She became news editor in 1981 and later editor and general manager.
When we moved Floyd in 2004, after 23 years in the Washington, DC, area, Wanda asked me to shoot photos of a high school football game. By Spring of 2005, I was covering County government and Circuit Court as a contract photographer for Media General, the Richmond-based chain that owned the Press, the later for BHMedia, the Warren Buffet chain that took over Media Generals papers.
This fall, if I’m still working for the chain, we will celebrate 15 years back at the paper where it all started in 1963.
Randy Hallman, Pete Halllman’s son, and a longtime friend, wrote for many years for The Richmond Times-Dispatch, covering NASCAR racing and other beats, and still writes a column for the paper. His thoughts about Wanda’s time:
We grew up at the Floyd Press, the fourth generation to whom the hum and clink of the linotype was its own sweet music. Our deep care for the paper is like printer’s ink in our veins.It has been our joy to stay in close contact with the paper during the Wanda Combs era. Under your hand, the words and images of The Floyd Press have reported the news, told the stories, reflected the wit and wisdom of the town and county. For us — both in the county and far away — the paper has continued to be a treasure.Thank you for your stewardship of the paper’s legacy.
Good thoughts. I never expected to be writing and reporting after coming back to Floyd after 40 years on the road, some of it in Roanoke for the Times, 12 years at The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, and then 23 years in the nation’s capital. I’ve covered and reported a lot of news in America and around the world in those 40 plus years.
When Wanda asked me to join the paper’s staff as a contractor, she took a chance on a newspaperman with a blunt writing style and a habit of digging into areas others did not want exposed. When Paul Allen, a fast-talking promoter, came to town with promises of building a data center at the county’ commerce park, I felt the rhetoric lacked substance and suggested we should look into his claims.
Wanda agreed and our stories exposed a con job that could have defrauded local investors and cost the county far more money than it did. Allen went to prison in this country and is headed for the same fate in England. When state police arrested a local businessman for child pornography, she put the story on Page 1.
But she also gave me a showcase from my sports photography and coverage of events like FloydFest and music. She let me write about my mother’s passion for motorcycles.
Many readers appreciated her kindness and compassion. She could also show a journalist’s skepticism when needed to pursue facts that needed revelation.
It’s been a fun 15 years with an editor who knows and loves the area and its people. I will miss her calm hand on the controls.