Richie Davis celebrates 40 years of covering life in Franklin County

  • Richie in a recent photo by staffer Paul Franz

  • Wally and Juanita Nelson, close to the earth. 1980

  • Time flies as we change. 1982

  • The Peace Pagoda in Leverett with water lilies in bloom. 2005

  • Lorre Wyatt of Greenfield collaborated on numerous songwriting projects with Pete Seeger.   2013

  • Rob Ripley, the genial Yankee maple farmer.   1992 

  • As well as writing a plethora of memorable stories during his first 40 years at The Recorder, Richie Davis also created “Franklin Facts,” a trivia game about Franklin County. Above is the game board. FILE IMAGE

  • Richie, in his early years at The Recorder

Recorder Staff
Published: 8/19/2016 11:06:23 PM

At 24, I landed in Greenfield, Mass., understanding little about life and less about just what I wanted to be doing for the rest of it, but I was excited to be starting work as a reporter for a daily newspaper.

I’d spent the two prior years editing — which is to say writing, editing, laying out and taking stray subscription and advertising calls — at two sister weekly newspapers, one after the other, in and near my college town near Rochester, N.Y.

I’d also had a year or two of writing feature stories as well as press releases for my college’s news office, and even writing for the student newspaper. I’d grown up reading The New York Times, and loving the time-honored tradition of crafting compelling stories about issues that truly matter.

By the time I arrived in Greenfield with my wife and a 1½-year-old daughter, I’d mastered the art of interviewing — at least interviewing for newspaper jobs.

Settling in for a week at the Northfield home of a co-worker in that summer of our nation’s Bicentennial, I toured Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and eastern New York and met with more than a dozen editors to inspect the lay of the land and survey the differences between, say The Manchester Journal, The Claremont Eagle, The Berkshire Eagle, the Kingston Daily Freeman and The Delmar Spotlight.

And then there was Greenfield, where machine shops still hummed with activity and close by the Shelburne dairy farm we’d begun visiting the summer before, falling head over heels for the land and especially the down-to-earth people we met. The Greenfield Recorder’s newsroom was one of the dozen or so I visited that week, along with the rest.

In Troy, N.Y., my wife and daughter got to watch a parade of circus elephants as I was tested by writing a news story about a recent Rensselaer bank robbery in which a suspect from Schagticoke had used a toy gun. The result was a job offer for a reporter’s job in the nearby Mechanicville bureau.

But while packing to leave my chain of weeklies — where I’d already won several awards from the New York State Press Association over a couple of years — a last-minute offer came in from The Greenfield Recorder to be its west county reporter. The Troy Record, where I’d already accepted the job, was a bigger paper in a capital-city metropolis with lots of promise, whereas The Greenfield Recorder seemed like a throwback to another time.

In the newsroom of this folksy down-home newspaper, hardly touched back then by TV news crews and not yet having to deal with cyber news blasts, local yokels walked right up to the reporters and pressed the flesh, sharing the latest gossip. There was a constant clatter from vintage 1930s and 1950s-era typewriters and teletypes, the “cut-and-paste” of writing stories involved real scissors, stacks of newsprint and paste pots on every desk. Rotary phones rang in from correspondents in the hilltowns as smoke rose from the cigarettes and pipes of newshounds pounding out stories for editors seated around a rim-shaped desk — stories that found their way eventually the waiting presses downstairs.

Out back, station wagons and their drivers, who’d driven in from the four corners of the county, waited for those presses to spew out the latest edition to take to readers whose families seemed to have been reading their hometown “Recorder Gazette” for generations.

I figured this backwater bustle, which seemed to be threatened with the arrival of computers about a year after I got here, offered a chance to grow, and maybe even settle in for three or four years.

Who’d have imagined four decades?

Franklin County grew on me from the moment I arrived — epitomized by my admiration for my mentor, an avuncular, quirky editor named Neil Perry. He took me out one afternoon for a drive around my nine-town turf as west county reporter. After stopping for an ice cream cone at Jed’s Cider Mill, then dropping in on various town garages to shoot the hilltown breeze, Neil drove me down some backroads seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, I was stunned to see a wooden, hand-scrawled “rare books” sign nailed to a tree on Newhall Road, off Bardwells Ferry in Conway.

“Rare books?” I asked, incredulous that such a business could really be operating out of this remote outpost.

“There’s a story behind every tree, Richie,” smirked this former statehouse reporter, as though he’d been savoring the moment to use that line.

It was that kind of story that had first drawn me to Franklin County for a week-long farm vacation a stone’s throw from that spot in Shelburne, picked at random from a guest-farm guidebook. Clearly, this was a special place where seeking out those stories and writing them would prove good for the soul.

To mark 40 years in a glorious place with no shortage of fascinating stories, I’ve picked out 40 articles that are among my favorites, because either the people involved or the circumstances under which they were written are so etched in my memory.

There are stories about Quabbin Reservoir and Yankee Atomic, about life on the commune and about older heroes, about having fun and bearing witness to sorrow. And nearly all touch on some aspect of what I’ve found to love about Franklin County.

Mind you, choosing 40 has been excruciating, as I pondered an array of pieces that told the story of where we live from each and every angle.

The stories can be found as an exclusive feature on The Recorder’s website by clicking the button near my byline at the top of this story. Richie’s Top 40.


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