I don’t know about you, but I think this world needs more legends. Many of you will remember one of my personal favorites. If his name is mentioned, smiles and stories will be shared. Some will be funny. Some will be touching. Yet, after the dust of our reminiscence clears the far reaches of our mind’s eye, another will push forward to grab attention. Only those of us who were around back in the 1960s experienced the anticipation of his work. Unless you lived somewhere outside Arkansas.
His name was Ron Meyer. He was first in line when our creator handed out wit, good sense and creativity. What made his so special? Let me explain.
Ron Meyer was the general manager of the Benton Courier, now known as the Saline Courier, and, as it is written in his obituary, he was “a mighty voice in Saline County journalism for a half-century.” He died at the age of 77 on July 3, 2016.
As general manager, Ron had pretty much free rein to write editorials and columns, which he did and with a flair for words that painted the facts in all its glory, warts and all. But that which most people remember him most was his uncanny ability to do the opposite with the incredible editorial cartoons he created. With a few strokes of his black ink pen, a small drawing on a poster card could tell a story more clearly, concisely and to the point than any story of any length. For this gift and commitment, he earned deserved accolades as one of the best editorial cartoonist in the state and region. He was known in many areas of this great country for his skill.
Click any image to enlarge it.
Those of us who were here back in the day know most of this. No new news here. What I’d like to do is spend some time telling you about my personal experience with a man I considered a role model in journalism and the advice he gave me as I started out as a writer.
Back in 2009, I began writing a freelance column for the Saline Courier. Ron had retired from there many years before. It wasn’t long after my column became a regular feature every Friday that I had an email from Ron. Seeing his name on the “From” line was a pleasant surprise. I didn’t figure he even knew who I was. Turns out I was wrong.
The body of the email began, “Hello, ol’ pard!” I smiled. Ron Meyer just called me his pard (partner). He went on to say that he had been following my column every week and told me to “keep it up. Ya got talent.” His critique was like a rush of wind blowing open the front door. It caught me by surprise.
For several months, we sent emails back and forth on every topic from writing to local politics. He didn’t care much for politicians, despite the fact that he once served on the Saline County Quorum Court.
Time passed and we continued to correspond.
In 2011, I was hired as editor of the Saline Courier. Ron was elated, so much so that he invited me to visit him at his home near the Saline/Pulaski County Line. Of course, I accepted.
When I got there on the agreed upon day, he was on the porch waiting for me. We shook hands. Discussed our common regard for Chevrolet Suburbans and then went inside. Turns out we both drove one, his considerably older than mine. The worn paint and the grime from years of driving seemed to best reflect the man who drove it.
He was dressed as you might imagine someone’s odd uncle from your mother’s side of the family. Overalls. Old plaid flannel shirt. Worn work boots. A red bandana hanging from his right front pocket. A old codger in the flesh.
He introduced me to his wife, Jimmy, and I instantly noticed another similarity between Ron and me – we both married considerably out of our league. Jimmy was the personification of everyone’s favorite aunt, the polar opposite of Ron’s odd uncle persona. She offered me tea and I accepted. She also told me that I would have to speak up a bit because Ron’s hearing wasn’t all that good after serving in the Marines as a mortar gunner.
Ron extended an invitation to buy me lunch at one of his favorite places, a cafe in a small house down the road that gave the appearance that he had conjured the eatery from his own imagination. Small round tables dotted the inside. Lights were low. A waitress brought a menu to me, but Ron didn’t need one. The waitress already knew what he wanted – his regular.
“Try the grilled cheese. It’s big enough to choke a horse.”, he said. “I’ll have the grilled cheese.” I told the waitress. Ron winked at me.
We didn’t talk much and after a short time, he paid the bill and drove me back to his house. We went back inside. “I’ve got something for ya, ol’ pard.”, he said. He motioned to Jimmy, she left the room and returned with a black garbage bag. Ron took the bag and handed it to me. “I want you to have these.”, he said. “I’ve got bunches of them in the attic but Jimmy won’t let me go up there anymore.” I looked inside the bag. It was filled with some of his cartoon drawings on poster board pieces.
I was stunned. “I can’t take these. They are too valuable.”
“Oh hell, they’re just drawings on cardboard”, he said. “Take ‘em.”
So I did. I couldn’t believe it. Ron Meyer originals. Given to me by the artist himself. I will treasure them always.
Next to the drawings, Ron gave me one other treasure. The advice I mentioned at the beginning of the article. One of the last emails he sent me included these words of encouragement about my writing going forward.
He said, “Touch as many people as you can.”
Brent Davis is a life-long resident of Benton. He is proud of his hometown and the good people in it. He served as editor of the Saline Courier from 2011 to 2014. He’s also the author of “As I See It – Memories & Musings of a Middle Aged Southern Man.” See the archive of his columns at www.mysaline.com/brent.