Living the legacy of a pioneering newspaper woman

As the Laurel Leader approaches its 120th year this September, one editor was at the helm for a good third of its life. Gertrude Poe, who died July 13 at the incredible age of 101, is widely recognized as a pioneering woman in journalism who guided her weekly broadsheet as four decades of American life was filtered through the little mill town on the Patuxent and reported on the pages of the Leader.

My tenure at the Leader didn't overlap with Ms. Poe; she retired a good dozen years before I started freelancing for the news paper on Main Street. But as a city resident, and as I took on more of a role at the Leader, it was hard to miss the legacy of Ms. Poe.

Longtime residents – those who still call the paper the News Leader, as it was named under her tenure – often sigh a bit when they say, well, under Gertrude Poe the Leader was really a paper.

Founded by owner and editor James P. Curley, the Leader has been in continuous publication since Sept. 17, 1897. In 1938, Laurel attorney G. Bowie McCeney took over ownership, and editorship, but that lasted only one year; he handed the paper to Ms. Poe, a new law school graduate who had worked in his law office, in 1939.

A self-taught journalist and editor, Ms. Poe put her own stamp on the Leader's content, and her love for Laurel was apparent in her personal Pen Points column, running down the front of page A-1, a precursor to today's online blogs.

"Can you imagine how proud I am to have been the chief chronicler of Laurel's saga for more than four decades?" Ms. Poe wrote in her final Pen Points column, published June 26, 1980.

Reflecting on her years reporting to work in the same Main Street office, Ms. Poe wrote, "I can never lock the door on the memory of those years, nor on the people who have come in and out of the door."

That door, wherever it might be located today and in the future, will never be locked. The Laurel Leader was set on a path by Ms. Poe, the same path it has traveled since under editors Karen Yengich, Joe Murchison, Pete Pichaske and now under my nearly nine-year tenure.

Because of the legacy she left, Ms. Poe, through her dedicated and careful guidance of the Leader for 41 years, has touched the future.

It will always be "Gertrude Poe's News Leader."

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