Cary’s legend sure to grow

by Anne Swenson

Bob Cary and I had a relationship along two lines. One was as his employer for 28 years, the other was as his friend for 30 years.<BR><BR>In many ways the two were poles apart. As his employer, I expected Bob to show up at the office 2-3 days a week. Sometimes he came in from his home on Moose Lake more often, sometimes less. Since he had no phone it was his choice. Monday was the day the Echo was “pasted up” and part of his job was to paste up and help write the front page, so that day he was almost always at the shop.<BR><BR>He wore plaid flannel shirts, work pants and a big Stetson hat and the phone started ringing when he walked in the Echo door. His wife Lil worked for us in the Echo photo lab and she worked the same hours as he did. It was a package deal. Together they got one pay check, always in Bob’s name.<BR><BR>Together they designed and built the photo lab with its labyrinth entry which kept out the light. That lab was a favorite of the hundreds of school children who took Echo tours, entering the lab in the dark and surprised when the light was suddenly switched on.<BR><BR>Bob’s assignments were to write his column “Birdshot and Backlashes” plus any other outdoor subject, create the front page “Jackpine” witticism, cover news of the Boundary Waters and write editorials upon which we could agree. <BR><BR>It was the latter which would sometimes find us toe to toe in loud and lengthy discussion. Some discussions would span more than a week before an agreement on the Echo’s stance was reached between editor and publisher. <BR><BR>This seeming contention was especially difficult in the 1970s and 1980s when the Echo staff occupied the main room of the Echo building at 2 East Sheridan and desks were butted up together or strung side by side around the room. Other employees had to try to work while these discussions were occurring.<BR><BR>At one point we had a retired school administrator working for us as a proof reader. She misinterpreted the arguments which went on and would attempt to intervene. That would make the discussion even longer and louder as we tried to get her out of the arena and on with our respective jobs.<BR><BR>Several times the editorials resulted in community boycotts by some segment of the population. Most of those occurred in the early years of my ownership of the newspaper. None were particularly nice, but we survived each attempt.<BR><BR>When I purchased the Echo in 1977 I had only 15 months of newspaper experience. Bob was asked and agreed to be the front man for the public. It was a role in which he was comfortable and confident. I wasn’t ready. The working relationship therefore was a good one. <BR><BR>We generally agreed in our viewpoints since we had passed our early years in similar backgrounds, living about a generation and 30 miles apart in Illinois.<BR><BR>As friends, we excelled. Our families melded well and we shared many good times together in a variety of recreation and social activities. <BR><BR>As individuals we listened to each other’s heartaches, shared the joys of music and confided our hopes and fears. And we laughed.<BR><BR>Yes, there was a time we disagreed and he left the Echo. We could not reconcile our approach to the issue of war. <BR><BR>Ely as a community could not reconcile its views on war to a single stance. I chose to allow every opinion on the issue to be published and page after page of letters to the editor appeared over several weeks. But Bob was not the editor. He had resigned over the issue. <BR><BR>Fourteen months later he was back. Not as editor but as a double columnist. Truth be told, there were several times one of his columns became that week’s editorial because there was common agreement on the subject.<BR><BR>As for our friendship which had been affected by his departure from the Echo, it finally healed on both sides. He continued to call me, “Hey, boss” or “Annie,” a term I never allowed anyone else to use without flinching.<BR><BR>“How long are you going to keep working,” I would ask and be asked as the years passed.<BR><BR>“As long as we’re having fun,” was always the reply from both of us.<BR><BR>As a man, Bob Cary was a loving and caring person to his family. He was talented in art, in writing, in music and more.<BR><BR>Not too long ago Nick and I visited with Bob at his home. For hours we talked about old stories, old friends, his run for U.S. President, politics and the BWCA. <BR><BR>He felt himself privileged to play drums with the musicians in the Starlighters swing band. <BR><BR>He spoke often of the pleasure he felt in living in the north country and how fortunate he was to be able to change his life to be here. <BR><BR>He fondly remembered clearing two miles of the Kek Trail with his friend Andy Hill and the honorableness of Tom Harristhal.<BR><BR>Some of his stories that day reminded me that we all forget the details and attributions of events and those events and people become part of the eternal myths and history of Ely.<BR><BR>And a new Ely myth will grow and grow around that renaissance man, that Jackpine Bob Cary.<BR><BR>