THE FEMININE MYSTIQUE IN THE FLORIDA KEYS

"DON'T EVER LET ANYONE USE YOU AGAIN"

Who says women didn't have power 50 years ago? At least in Key West, Florida, there was one woman in the 1960's who never let the male power structure tell her what to do.

She was a single mother back when that was neither socially acceptable nor much admired. She was in charge when women were supposed to work as secretaries or just stay home.

She knew her profession and stuck to it when women were considered scatterbrained and inconsequential.

And she fired male employees when women were supposed to know their place and be deferential to men.

Actually, she almost fired me.

I was just a kid when I got my first job, working as a reporter for the Key West Citizen during summers while still in high school. She was the paper's managing editor, and she took no guff. She already had a hardscrabble life, so didn't suffer fools gladly. She had a grown son who was always getting into trouble with police, so she had good reason to be preoccupied elsewhere. And she gave me the best lesson in the Fourth Estate I ever had.

An English professor at the local community college--at the time named the Florida Keys Junior College--called the paper to make a complaint about his boss. It seems the college president didn't much like this particular professor and had moved him to a much smaller office without any air conditioning as punishment. And this was Key West in June. The managing editor sent her cub reporter to find out what was going on. So, with camera in hand, I went to visit this beleaguered professor, whom I imagined to be sweating profusely in what had become his prison cell.

When I got to his office, it wasn't that bad. The guy had a small fan and seemed to be doing okay. I interviewed him about his spat with the college administration, but when I went to take the picture that would accompany the article, he suddenly turned off the fan and started sweating heavily (the professor was quite obese). Then he grabbed a towel and put it around his head like he was recovering from five hours in the sauna. I took the picture, went to see the college president for his side of the story ("Personnel issue, no comment") and then returned to the Citizen newsroom to write my story.

When she saw the picture as published, she hit the roof. Why did you just let him stage the scene like that, she thundered. "Don't ever let anyone use you again." She lectured me some more, saying that a reporter is an observer of things as they really are, not as someone might want the world to see them.

Duly embarrassed, I was determined to never let a news source "play" me like that again. And I never did.

I lost touch with that managing editor three years after going off to college and deciding that the electronic media was more my style than print. But no matter what the outlet, some media truisms never change.

Her name was Margaret Foresman and she was my first, and toughest, boss.



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