Gary Connor
Navarro County, Texas


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10/17/2004 Right Turn: Connor's open door, compassion leave mark (w/tidbits)

 

Gary Connor, forefront, and Linda Dozier work feverishly on ads in 1980. The two worked together for more than 25 years. Daily Sun file photo/JIM HOWELL

 

Gary Connor spent 26 years with the Daily Sun, the last 13 as publisher. He starts with the Palestine Herald-Press Monday. Daily Sun photo/SCOTT HONEA

 





By RAYMOND LINEX II/Daily Sun Staff

While the day may start a bit earlier than normal, the routine after waking will be much the same Monday as it has been for the past 26 years. The neatly pressed shirt and slacks will slide on the same, the motion of the comb will follow its standard course. The avid hunter and faithful family man will climb into his black Ford pickup and make the same three-quarters of a mile drive to U.S. Highway 287.

There, as he checks traffic to his left, then right, life will take a turn for Gary Connor, who may just look left again.

No longer will the trek to work from Eureka lead him to make a turn in that direction, toward Corsicana and the Daily Sun, where Connor, 54, has spent the last 26 years of his life as advertising representative, ad director and publisher. It will take him south, a right turn off the county road he's called home for almost 30 years, to Palestine.



At some point after 6 a.m., maybe even before, Connor will report to work, his first day as the new publisher at the Palestine Herald-Press. Twenty-six years of familiarity gone with one 45-minute commute that will soon become as routine as his drives past the fields off 287 dotted with cattle and oil pumpers, Mildred School where he once taught and through a stretch of old Highway 75 that once included Sirman Automotive, V's Cafe and a corner Dairy Queen.

"Fortunately it's a slow process of realization," he said Wednesday, the books and coffee cups and hats he's collected over the years -- 13 as publisher -- still firmly affixed to the shelves behind his desk.

Packing would wait until the weekend, when realization would become a key word for the family, both the Connors and the Daily Sun. Most in the office have known only one publisher. For those with more tenured careers, it's a long reach back into the memory bank to recall another.
Whether its 33 years of service or three, Connor left virtually the same mark. He will be remembered in the office for his ability to be fair, his open door policy, his compassion and, perhaps most of all, his genuine sense of friend.

"Even if the next guy is a wonderful person, I don't know that I want to be here another 19 years to build a relationship like that," said Karen Davis, whom Connor hired when he was an ad director.

Davis has peers in the office. Circulation Manager Sharon Mertz has been at the paper for some 27 years, about six years short of Linda Dozier, who owns a seat mere feet from Davis in the advertising office. The words of adoration about Connor stumble at their lips when the tears start forming and their realization kicks in.

The witty Dozier puts it into terms easy to understand ... at 52, she's known Connor half her life, spending as much time with him and coworkers as at home at times. Boyfriends come and go, she jested, but Connor has been one man constant in her life.

That in itself is a blessing, she said.

"I knew I could go to him about anything, job-related or personal," Dozier said. "He was always there for me, and he never judged me.

"That's rare. He would listen, and say, 'What can I do to help?' "

There were many days Mertz said she would venture into that open door, only to shut it "and ball my eyes out."

Mertz and Dozier, like their counterparts, never saw Connor's leaving coming, especially less than a year after Advertising Director T.C. Hurst retired after 21 years. They expected Connor to be at the Sun until he retired, too. After all, he had endured in the office's highest role for a long time.

In Connor's 26 years, he worked for three other publishers before he ascended there. In that same time, 12 editors called the Daily Sun home.

Those were not all easy years. Connor was at the helm when a fire struck the Sun in the summer of '92 and displaced employees for five months. The paper never missed an edition, a source of pride for Connor.

There were ownership changes, five in all. In the late '80s bankruptcy entangled the paper in years of struggle. And you can never underestimate the impact employee problems -- in office and out -- can play in a business.

There were surgeries, sicknesses, deaths and disasters. Through it all, Connor was a constant.

"He's always been so understanding and fair," said Davis, who fought and won a battle with cancer several years ago. "He always looks at the whole picture. ...

"Since I've been here, I've had two kids and dealt with cancer. Some people would say, 'Deal with it.' "

No one knows that type of support from Connor more than Assistant Editor Loyd Cook. In May of 2002, he missed three months after double-bypass surgery and a staph infection that followed it.

"I remember laying in a hospital bed after a second surgery related to my bypass operation," Cook said. "My wife was at my side and Gary had made the out-of-the-way trip from Corsicana to Baylor Hospital in Dallas to check on me. At that point I had been off work about seven weeks or so and the medical bills left over after insurance were beginning to weigh on my mind. I was worried I wouldn't continue getting my full paycheck if I stayed out much longer."

Connor told Cook not to worry. In hindsight, Cook said he never had reason to.

"I never lost a penny of my salary while I was out, which eventually stretched to three months. Not a lot of bosses take care of their people that well," Cook said.

Though Connor took journalism classes at Stephen F. Austin, the 1968 Frost graduate didn't immediately make his way to the newspaper profession. English was his first love, and he landed in the classroom at Mildred High School for four and half years teaching it after college.

He was searching for a new career when he spotted a classified ad in the Sun for an advertising representative. He answered it, and a career did indeed blossom.

"I immediately found the daily deadline regimen suited me personally," Connor said.

The rise to publisher came with proper guidance, Connor said, from predecessors Art Kenney and Wilson Griffin, two "very good newspaper people and very good teachers with patience," Connor said.

The paper joined the computer generation during Connor's 26 years, added a Saturday edition, won numerous awards and saw its football sections the last two years top corporate-parent CNHI's competition for revenue share, doubling in sales from 2002 to 2003 and twice besting Norman, Okla., which has Oklahoma University to bank on.

Still, Connor's self-professed greatest accomplishment had little to do with ink and paper and revenues and more to do with those who helped carve out a daily edition day after day after day.

"The true highlights are each day that each employee came on the staff," Connor said. "This is the finest group of newspaper professionals I could have ever hoped to work with. Not only do they work hard, but they take a great deal of pride in the finished product."

Perhaps, they are a reflection of their publisher.

"He's a true, southern gentlemen," Dozier said.

Said Cook, "Gary has been a friend, co-worker and mentor during my eight years with the Daily Sun. I've had my share of bosses, good and bad, but Gary has been the best person that I've had the pleasure to work for."

Turn right. The legacy will begin to form to the left.

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Raymond Linex II may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected]

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Defining moments

Gary Connor lists five events that occurred during his 26 years with the Daily Sun that stood out:

1. Microtech: The computer system in the late '80s allowed the circulation and advertising departments to ditch hand-written classifieds and manually-built ads.

2. Lost press: In 1999, the Daily Sun's press was dismantled and moved to Port Arthur, and printing operations moved to the Palestine Herald-Press. Many residents said the backbone had been removed from the Daily Sun.

3. Macintosh invasion: Microtech may have been the trendsetter, but the move to Apple Macintosh computers throughout the newspaper in the early '90s was the Daily Sun's most significant technological advance.

4. Saturday editions: On Aug. 4, 1984, after weeks and weeks of planning and preparation, the Daily Sun published its first Saturday edition, making it a true seven-day daily.

5. The Fire: Eight years later, on Aug. 14, 1992, a fire ripped through the press room, starting when a light fixture dropped molten-like runoff onto rolls of newsprint. Employees were displaced for five months, but not one edition was lost.

xxx

26 years in one spot ...

So how long has Gary Connor been at the Daily Sun? Here is a list of personnel changes -- some significant, some not -- since his beginning with the newspaper:

Daily Sun publishers (4, counting Connor)



Art Kenney, Tucker Sutherland, Wilson Griffin, Connor

Daily Sun editors (12)


Bob Armstead, Jody Cox, Jennifer Allen, Laura Albrecht, Joe Lee Kergan, Charlie Harrist, Jim Goodson, Rob Ludwig, Loyd Cook, Raymond Linex II

Texas Governors (7)


Dolph Briscoe, Bill Clements, Mark White, Bill Clements (again), Ann Richards, George W. Bush, Rick Perry

U.S. Presidents (5)


Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush

 


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Edward L. Williams & Barbara Knox