NEWBERRY – Ask Sammy Graham what he likes about working for The Newberry Observer and he’ll look you dead in the eye, pause, then say: Everything.
And he means it.
For the past 35 years, Graham has worked in the press room at The Newberry Observer, bending plates, filling ink wells, loading cumbersome rolls of newsprint, catching papers – what we in the newspaper business call stacking the papers as they come off the press – and making sure that every edition that leaves our building on Main Street is the best it can be.
In those 35 years, he has missed only two days of work, both because of a 105.7 degree temperature he developed after a yard sale in April 2011.
Graham started working for The Newberry Observer on April 16, 1979, and it’s a date he remembers well.
“I was working at the National Guard Armory. They had a small press out there and I was running that,” Graham said. “I worked out there six years and six months.”
One of his co-workers happened to mention to him that The Observer needed a pressman so Graham talked to J.W. Earhardt Jr., the publisher at the time, and got the job. Earhardt retired that July.
Earhardt’s words to Graham?
“He just told me to run the press good,” Graham said.
The rest, as they say is, history.
Graham was part of the crew that moved the Goss Community press to the building that currently houses The Observer. That was no easy task, Graham said, but the job was completed — press moved, plumbed and concrete poured — in time to print the next scheduled edition of the paper two days later.
“We broke all the cement that night and then that Thursday we moved the press up here on a forklift and we had the press running that Friday morning,” Graham said.
Over the years, as the technology for producing a newspaper has changed, Graham has had to keep up with the times, including learning how to use a computer since The Observer is now printed using state-of-the-art computer to plate technology.
While the press still uses offset technology – where the colors cyan, magenta, yellow and black are imprinted on newsprint at different locations on the press – the introduction of computer to plate technology has helped make the final product more consistent.
Graham remembers the days when The Observer ran literally day and night, printing comics for others publications, printing TV Weekly and printing papers in neighboring communities.
But newspapering isn’t all there is to Graham.
He and his wife, Mary Suber Graham, have known one another since they were in high school. They went to the prom together but their paths went in separate directions after Graham graduated from Newberry High School in 1975.
Both got married and both got divorced – but their paths would cross again many years later, thanks to Graham’s association with The Observer.
Graham, now 58, used to ride along with the person making the paper’s deposit at BB&T. Mary happened to be in the bank one day.
“Mary was at the bank and she asked me if I had gotten married yet and I said no, I was waiting on you,” Graham said, chuckling. “I waited on her for so many years.”
And much like his career in the newspaper business, the rest is history. They were married on Aug. 27, 2005, at Calvary Baptist Church, where he serves as a trustee.
Growing up as the 11th child of 14 – 10 boys and four girls – Graham attended the church when he was growing up in the Mt. Bethel Garmany Road area of Newberry. His mother worked two jobs to take care of the family and Graham’s older sister helped raise him and his siblings.
Now, all these years later, Graham is a grandfather of two who likes to travel to Columbia with his wife of nine years, go out to eat, or, as was the case recently, stay at home and cook on the grill.
While the press room isn’t as busy as it once was, Graham said he still loves his job. And when it comes to his job, Graham is all business.
As the interview winds down, he glances up at the clock, looks back at his interviewer and says as seriously as he can: “Time for me to get back to work.”
And with that, we’re done.
Soon, the tap-tap-tap of computer keys is replaced with what, for Graham, is a sweet sound: the clack-clack-clack of that Goss Community press revving up for another night of production to begin his 36th year at The Newberry Observer.