Newspapers are known as the first drafts of history. But today’s edition is the final one for a quiet legend of South Carolina’s print industry.
Eddie Latham, the maestro of the Index-Journal’s massive press and the company’s jack-of-all-trades for more than 40 years, is retiring.
“They built the building around Eddie,” said Shawn Gannon, Latham’s press manager replacement. “The guys work hard for him, and they have a lot of respect for him.”
Latham’s departure closes out an era. Between him and his father, Clarence, the family has more than 80 years of service at the paper. Eddie began delivering papers in 1967 at the age of 12.
“Daddy was in circulation then, so I didn’t have a choice,” Latham said. Clarence would go on to be circulation manager as well.
Latham’s title as press manager is somewhat of a misnomer. First, he said, the core part of his job would be impossible if not for a dedicated crew that works through the night to ensure that papers find their way to subscribers. He doesn’t view himself as a supervisor, but part of a larger team.
When he’s not doing that, Latham is likely elsewhere inside the newspaper’s 610 Phoenix St. headquarters swapping out lights, tightening door locks, replacing ceiling tiles or performing any range of thankless tasks that help keep the office in working order.
“When Eddie retires tomorrow, it will mark the first time I have been working here without a Latham as a co-worker. Eddie will forever be my friend. I will miss him terribly,” said Index-Journal president and publisher Judith Mundy Burns. :Eddie and I both worked at the Index-Journal part time years ago, and we both started working here full time in April of 1977.”
Latham, 63, joined the Index-Journal in 1973. In 1976, he left for eight months -his only time away from the company.
Although he wants to spend more time with his family, Latham said that after a half-century, he “kind of sort of started to get burnt out.”
“I’ve been doing more things around here than probably needs to be done, but the candle’s getting a little bit dim,” Latham said.
At 16 feet long and 75 feet tall, the 16-year-old press is a complex piece of machinery — a device Latham knows intimately and enjoys talking about.
“It takes time. It’s not nothing you can learn in a couple of years. The more you’re with it, the more you learn,” he said.
Latham said as the newspaper’s print circulation has dwindled since 2003, the press has gotten less mileage — which actually may help it last longer.
“It’s got at least another 16 years in it. You can see the good side and the bad side,” he said. “Sixteen years later, we’re doing half, so the press is getting less wear and tear.”
The demand, however, is still there for a print product.
“As long as we got that, we’re OK,” Latham said. “When I come into work or if go someplace else a little early before I get here, I see people pulling a paper out of their mailbox and reading it, that’s a plus. I see that and I think, ‘Oh man, we printed that last night.’ Or if I didn’t my crew did.”
Over his career, Latham has passed through the press newspapers capturing some of the 20th century’s most important moments: The resignation of President Richard Nixon in August 1974. The Dec. 8, 1980 assassination of John Lennon. President Reagan’s attempted murder on March 30, 1981. The razing of the Berlin Wall in November 1981, with the fall of Soviet Russia a month later.
But the event that stands out most for Latham was 9/11.
“That’s the shocker to me,” he said.