No matter my question about Tupelo history, Joe Rutherford probably had the answer. And if he didn’t, there was likely a document somewhere in his office that did. The problem would be to find it. He didn’t really have a filing system, just stacks and stacks of paper.
Joe was still the opinion page editor for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal when I started here in early 2016. By the end of that year, he retired after a tenure of 44 years at the newspaper. He had stints as a reporter and a managing editor, but his impact is defined by his longstanding role as the Daily Journal’s institutional voice.
Perhaps I am not the best person to be recollecting about Joe. Others here in our newsroom certainly knew him far, far better. I only had a chance to work with Joe about a year before his retirement, and then, after only a year of retirement, he sadly passed away. But my thoughts have been with Joe the last few weeks.
I recently completed the work needed to compile a special section commemorating the 150th anniversary since the chartering of the city of Tupelo and the founding of the newspaper that would become the Daily Journal. This special section was included a week ago with the Sunday, Oct. 18 edition of the newspaper.
To produce the section, a good bit of time was required digging around into dusty places. But my forays into the history of the local community began back in 2016 with Joe Rutherford as my guide, and I want to honor the role he played in my understanding of the place I now call home.
But Joe was more than window into the past. In his career, he played a decisive role in shaping the present and the future from his role as the opinion page editor and the author of the unsigned editorials that appeared every day of the week in the newspaper during his tenure. He had a passion for transportation issues. He helped maintain the newspaper’s stance as an unyielding supporter of public education. He told the community what was best about itself, and what needed changing.
You see, Joe inherited a legacy here at the Daily Journal and within the broader community. Along with others, he took that inheritance, helped maintain its vitality, and passed it on to people like me, leaving us now with the task that faced him all those years ago when he took up his pen.
That’s really why Joe has been on my mind of late. Yes, I miss the opportunity to call him up and let him fill in the blanks of my knowledge. But I’m mindful, fresh off an immersion in the history of this community, of the challenges and the opportunities ahead.
It’s now up to us to do the kind of work that Joe did. Patiently and slowly, without much fanfare, the task is to build upon what’s best about the past, while also innovating where necessary, in order to build a future in which we can all find a place.