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On Tuesday, May 27, 2014, the final print issue of The Paducah Post bore a sorrowful headline: “R.I.P” superimposed in white over a photo of the two-story, red-brick newspaper building at the corner of Eighth and Richards streets on the town square. The headline signaled the end of an era: for the Post, founded in 1906, and for Publisher Jimmye Taylor, who served as reporter, janitor, photographer, circulation and business manager, editor and owner over a half-century career at the weekly paper.
But just one week after the print newspaper folded in this economically depressed and drought-stricken town about a two-hour drive northeast of Lubbock, the 76-year-old Taylor reported thrilling news: Her daughter, Jody, and her husband—Taylor’s son-in-law, Chad Piper, whose work with Taylor at the paper included writing a column called “Whompyjawed”—were producing an emailed version of The Paducah Post, along with about 120 printed copies for weekly sale at the local grocery store, café and a large convenience store.
“So far, it has gone super!!” Taylor wrote in a mid-June email. “And new subscriptions are coming in every day. I am writing some articles for the new paper and Chad has asked me to do my column Just Ramblin’ as well … so the tradition continues ….”
Earlier in June, though, with the new paper in much more of a fledgling state, Taylor’s grief was palpable. Since 1963—save for a two-year leave in the late 1980s when she completed her college curriculum and graduated with a journalism degree from West Texas State University (now West Texas A&M University) in Canyon—she had worked at the paper. Now, she didn’t know what to do with herself in this Panhandle town where she was born and raised.
For 40 years, readers devoured Taylor’s column. She was used to working on deadline, writing stories, selling ads and getting the paper out on time, week after week. At work, Taylor loved looking outside through tall and wide windows, her eyes flooded with natural light as she surveyed the Cottle County courthouse and part of the square across the street from the newspaper building constructed in 1929.
After the paper closed, she set up an office at home, clearing out an unused bedroom, but the existing window was too high—she couldn’t see out.
As much as Taylor loves the house where she and her husband, Frank Taylor, have lived for 45 years, her new office space illustrated her dilemma: She couldn’t fully envision her future. Sure, Taylor said in a phone interview in early June, she planned to write for the new publication, in whatever shape it took. And ever the dedicated journalist, she kept her camera at the ready. Following a two-inch rain the first weekend of June, she traipsed out to farmers’ fields, taking photos of water standing in the rows.
But as Taylor explained, she’s also taking a realistic view of her hometown—the town that still sports the swimming pool her father helped build in 1929 as part of the Works Progress Administration. The town where she met her future husband, a strapping young U.S. Army paratrooper with black hair and dark brown eyes who entered her life in a most dashing way. Jimmye Brown, 18, and a friend were sitting inside a drugstore on the town square when Frank opened the front door. He walked in, his sharply creased khaki pants tucked inside his spit-polished leather boots with white laces and the traditional paratrooper white scarf around his neck and tucked into his khaki shirt collar.
“My gosh,” Taylor recalls of that day in January 1956, “I about fell off the stool. He was gorgeous. I told my friend, ‘That’s the man I’m going to marry.’ ” Marry him she did, eight months later, on September 17, 1956.
The Town Struggles
Frank and Jimmye raised two children in their Paducah home: Vince, who drives a concrete and gravel truck and lives in Roaring Springs, 35 miles away; and Jody, a high school counselor and college-credit anatomy and physiology teacher at Childress High School. She and her mother attended West Texas State University together after Jody’s graduation from high school in 1988.
Jimmye Taylor—around the age of 12, she changed the spelling of her birth name from Jimmie to Jimmye when a pen pal in New York excitedly thought she was writing to a Texas boy—holds close the memories she’s constructed in Paducah. But so much of her town is gone. The square that once boasted four drugstores, a boot shop, a furniture store, three theaters and a plethora of other businesses, including variety, dry-good and clothing stores and a JCPenney, is a shell of its former self.
A handful of businesses remain open on the square, including a Texas Farm Bureau Insurance office and a T-shirt shop. But most of the old buildings sit empty.
As Taylor explains, Paducah’s population, once numbering in the thousands, took its first hit during the Great Depression. But Paducah, named the seat of Cottle County when the county was established in 1892, climbed back into prominence as an agricultural hub. For decades, farmers’ cotton, grain and alfalfa crops and ranchers’ cattle herds sustained the local economy.
Recurring drought throughout the years, including Texas’ drought of record in the 1950s and the current, extreme drought conditions affecting agriculture-dependent locales throughout the Panhandle, has cost Paducah dearly. At its peak, Paducah featured five cotton gins. Now, one gin remains open, a lonely symbol of the economic distress that has rocked this tiny town whose current population of roughly 1,000 people has been slashed in half since the 1980s.
As the town struggled, so did The Paducah Post. Taylor once counted 1,600 subscribers. By 2014, the number had dropped to 450. She once did business with 100-plus advertisers. And now? “Not enough,” she said.
The Post’s Farewell
Unable to find a buyer, Taylor started preparing The Paducah Post’s final issue. It was like planning a funeral, and in a May 13 column, she asked readers to not pay for renewals or new subscriptions.
“I have always loved this job, and was glad to get up every morning knowing that I could come to work at a job that was important to me, and to the community,” Taylor wrote. “But, times change, and no matter how much we love our work, so must we. After many hours of tearful prayer, and weeks of consideration; after a number of attempts, by several avenues, to sell the paper, with no results … my family and I have decided to close the doors of the Paducah Post, once and for all.”
Taylor wrote that after the final issue was published, she would be working inside the newspaper building, finishing up business and organizing a sale of office equipment and furniture. She ended the column with these words:
“We will miss this business more than you can imagine. I have loved writing the news, and my column, Just Ramblin’, for over 40 years. I always enjoyed taking pictures and tracking down stories, and visiting with folks coming in this old door. Leaving it is like losing a member of the family, and we must go through the grieving process in the same way, but there it is.”
Taylor and her son-in-law worked side by side on the final issue. On May 30, the newspaper’s phone was disconnected.
Two weeks after the paper closed, Taylor talked to a reporter on her home phone. People care about local news, she said. But she simply couldn’t afford to keep publishing the paper. “It has been bad, or I wouldn’t be closing,” Taylor said. “I didn’t want to quit.”
Taylor’s voice cracked with emotion as she referenced her biggest supporter, Frank, her husband of 58 years who served as Cottle County’s sheriff from 1976 through 1996. “Excuse me just a minute,” she said, softly crying, then regaining her composure, her voice steady and strong as she quoted Frank’s encouraging words: “Jimmye, you have to remember you have not quit the town, the town has quit around you.”
During the roughest patches, Taylor found comfort from newspaper veterans as well. At the top of that list was Micheal Hodges, executive director of the Texas Press Association, a good friend through the years who echoed her husband’s words.
A Need For News
But hold on a minute, Jimmye Taylor now says: Nobody’s quitting anything. In a July 9 email, she reported that her daughter and son-in-law were emailing 14 to 16 newspaper pages every week and building a healthy subscription and advertising base despite competition from a paper 90 miles away. “It makes me feel good that people still want their Paducah Post,” Taylor wrote. She continued: “The newspaper, along with the school and the bank, I think are the backbone of a community … once they begin to die, the community crumbles.”
In a second phone interview the last week of July, Taylor was in a hurry. She had a story to start researching for another publication, and she was busy thinking of ideas for the evolving version of The Paducah Post. “Retirement is for the birds,” Taylor said. “I don’t like it.”
So what’s next for Taylor? Maybe she’ll finish the book she started, using columns saved from many years back and a few homilies she’s picked up over the years. Continuing a tradition, she and Frank will keep their grandchildren—9-year-old twins Cord, a boy, and Aidan, a girl—before and after school.
Keeping up with the grandkids, playing keyboard and singing harmony at a Friday night music get-together, playing piano and bass guitar during church worship services, and pursuing another one of her favorite hobbies, painting, will keep her busy, Taylor says, adding: “I won’t have much time to be bored.”
As for journalism, Taylor said she will miss the excitement of going to fires and wrecks, along with digging into investigative reporting. But the way things are going with The Paducah Post, new writing assignments might be coming her way.
In late July, she reported that her daughter and son-in-law, with Chad Piper taking the lead, were printing 200 18-page copies a week and delivering almost 50 of those papers to residents’ homes. “I’m old-fashioned,” Taylor said. “I could not see online doing any good, but he’s getting new subscriptions every day.”
Camille Wheeler is an Austin writer.