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Beloved printer retires after a life at a small town newspaper

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Longtime printer Earl Bailey, poses in the print shop of The Enterprise and Weekly Herald in Williamston, holding wood ink pens he made in his spare time. Bailey retired last month after nearly 60 years of running printing presses at the newspaper.

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By Deborah Griffin
Enterprise & Weekly Herald

Sunday, October 21, 2018

BEAR GRASS — Earl Bailey has hung his printer’s apron up for the last time.

After almost 60 years of service with the Enterprise & Weekly Herald in Williamston, the 74-year-old former Linotype has retired.

Bailey has given almost three-quarters of his life to the art of printmaking and has experienced more about the newspaper business than most. He is looking forward to spending time with his wife and grandchildren, as life takes a decidedly slower pace.

"I have never minded getting up in the morning and coming into work," he said. "I have always liked what I do. I feel lucky to have had a job I really enjoyed.”

That was evident in the first-class work he consistently produced on the paper's old presses.

“I never got to the point where I did not want to go into work. I’ve always enjoyed all the people I worked with,” he added.

Now he is looking forward to working in his garden more and tooling around his workshop.

“I am looking forward to getting up in the morning and doing whatever I like,” he laughed.

“This is an end to an era. I wish Mr. Earl well as he rides off into the sunset to tinker around in his workshop and enjoy his grandchildren,” said Kyle Stephens, group publisher for the paper.

“As everyone knows, he was a one-of-a-kind person and employee for all these years. All of our best goes out to him and his family.”

Soft spoken and always smiling, when people meet Bailey, they know they’ve met a man of integrity. But that wouldn’t keep him from pulling a prank or two or telling a story, serious at first, until a twinkle appeared in his eye and the realization set in he was spinning a tale.

He has been married to the first love of his life (since ninth grade), Judy, for 54 years. Bailey hopes he and Judy will be able to travel a little more, without the restraints of a full-time job holding him down.

He grew up with five siblings on a small family farm in Bear Grass, outside of Williamston, in the 1940s and 1950s.

Earl and Judy have two grown boys and three grandchildren. Chris, 48, lives in Jacksonville with his wife, Beth, and the Baileys’ 16-year-old granddaughter, Caitlyn.

Jason, 43, lives with his wife, Angie, in Raleigh with the Baileys’ grandson, Wyatt, 13, and granddaughter, Emerson, 10.

“I appreciate the support my family has given me over the years,” he said. “I’ve had a very good life, a wonderful family.”

When Bailey was 18, in March of 1962 while still in high school at Bear Grass, he was given a part-time job at The Enterprise. Upon Bailey’s graduation, Francis Manning, the editor of The Enterprise at that time, recognized Bailey's work ethic and dedication and offered him a full-time job at 19.

Bailey took the job, not realizing his lengthy career was about to begin. He missed only two years — when he was drafted into the United States Army and served in Vietnam running infantry support conveys. When he returned home from the war to the serene farmlands of Bear Grass, he found his job waiting for him.

The newspaper business has evolved tremendously through the years he has been employed.

"People would not believe what we used to have to do to put out the paper," Bailey said. “When the paper went to press, everybody in the office had to stop what he or she was doing and help out. It was like putting a puzzle together. It kept you going all the time," he continued.

Today, the Martin County newspaper is printed in Greenville. Digital plate burners are used in place of camera negatives to create the printing plates. Carmera negative followed the lead-lettered plated that Baily helped make in the earlier days of his career.

At the office in Williamston, Bailey ran a print shop and printed "job-work," like stationary and business cards using older presses that printed on cut paper.

The technology Bailey utilized for this type of work was the same technology he learned when he was trained in his early twenties. He printed for local businesses and residents in need of bulletins, flyers, menus, business letterhead and return envelopes.

Bailey is quick to add that he will miss the daily interaction he had with his clientele. “I will miss dealing with my customers,” he said. Some, he had for decades.

“I appreciate all the customers I’ve had over the years. I’ve always enjoyed talking with them and seeing them when they came around,” he added.

It was not uncommon for Bailey to pause the presses long enough to catch up with what was happening in his clients’ lives.

Bailey has seen the newspaper change hands multiple times.

He worked for Manning, who owned The Enterprise until 1984, when the Greenville Daily Reflector bought the newspaper and named Dallas Coltrain as publisher. Later, Cox Newspapers then Cooke Communications purchased the paper. Adams Publishing Group purchased the Enterprise and Weekly Herald along with The Daily Reflector and other papers in the region in September.

Bailey remembers the past just about as well as the present.

"A newspaper cost five cents when I started," he said. "A subscription cost $3.50. I remember when the Harvest Edition would be 50 pages."

That was during a time when there were more businesses in town, which meant more advertisers.

"The tobacco markets were still open. After farmers had to stop growing [so much] tobacco, it hurt the economy and a lot of businesses closed," he continued.

Bailey worked in the same building all his life. The Enterprise office, for a while, expanded to the building next door, but he has always worked in the back of its current location at 106 Main St.

"I've always enjoyed what I did," Bailey said. "I guess that was what kept me there. I always had good people to work with."

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