[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Moorhus: We're ready to go. We'll pick up with your first job after college.
Howell: I was stunned when the AP [Associated Press] wasn't going to give me the job that I thought I had been promised.
Moorhus: How did you go about getting the job with the AP?
Howell: I went up and interviewed with them. Then when I didn't get the job, I was stuck. I didn't have a job. I mean, everybody else had jobs. It was toward the end of the year; there weren't any more interviews to do. So I had to go back home, of all places, and start writing letters, and I just spent a month, a miserable month, not getting anywhere, trying to get a job.
Then out of the blue—and in those days, you simply couldn't get a job unless you went on the women's pages. I mean, I was told again and again and again. And I was applying to every newspaper, medium-size newspaper, in the State of Texas, it seemed like, and I couldn't get anywhere.
Moorhus: Did they offer you women's pages, and you didn't want it?
Howell: Yes. I told them that I was interested in a city desk job, that I was not interested in women's pages, and they would write me back and say, "That's the only place we hire women," or, "I'm sorry, we have no jobs open except on the women's pages," and so I said, "I will not work on the women's pages." So I was a month or six weeks without a job.
Then I got a call at night from a man, Vann Kennedy, who, it turned out, my father had grown up with in San Marcos, Texas, who owned a radio and TV station in Corpus Christi. He had called the University of Texas placement office, looking for somebody, and they'd given him my name. He thought, "Oh, it must be Henry Howell's daughter." So he offered me a job. I'd never thought about radio and TV, which was what my dad was in. He offered me a job six days a week, sixty hours a week, no car allowance, and I was thrilled; I took it. I was down there in a flash.
Moorhus: How much money?
Howell: Eighty dollars a week.
Moorhus: Eighty dollars a week for sixty hours a week?
Howell: Right. And no overtime and no car allowance. And I was thrilled. I took it. I went right down there. I had the first and only woman boss I ever had. There were three of us on this
little station, and I covered everything. I covered cops. No, there were four of us. But I covered cops and schools and county courts and everything, and it was a wonderful experience. This woman news editor would send me everywhere, so I really got to know the cops. I loved cops. It was so much fun. I covered the city council, and I really got to know Corpus Christi, Texas, and I loved it. But I was working my fanny off, and after a year, I went in and asked for a five-dollar raise, and the guy turned around and said no, he wasn't going to give me a five-dollar-a-week raise. And I'd really worked hard, and I was furious.
I walked upstairs to a pay phone, and I called the editor of the newspaper, and I said, "You turned me down for a job once because I was a woman, but I've been working over here on the TV station, and I've beaten you a lot and I've done a lot of good stories, and I want to make another run at you. I'd like to work on the Corpus Christi Caller-Times."
He said, "Well, it just so happens I have an opening on the copy desk. Why don't you come over here."
So I went right over, and he hired me. And I came back before noon and quit. My boss was really heartsick, because she loved me, but I was furious. I walked back in, and I said, "I just got a job on the Corpus Christi Caller-Times for $15 more a week, and I'm leaving in two weeks." What I wanted to say, in Texas lingo, would be "AMF." You know what "AMF" is?
Howell: "Adios, mother fucker." [Laughter.] I didn't. I said, "See ya." And I walked out, and I started to work on the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in two weeks. I only had to work five days a week, too, but I had split days off and split shifts. I'd come to work at 5:45 in the morning, work till noon, go home, and come back and work three to six. It was just screwy. And I liked it, and I had a good time.
Moorhus: The broadcast experience, did you get on the radio and did you get on the television?
Howell: No, I was a behind-the-scenes reporter. This was before the days of sound on film. This is very early. Remember we're talking 1962. So they weren't shooting any sound on film, so I was never on camera. My voice was never used on radio. We had news readers who had good voices, who did that. And I was a reporter. But I just moved right over and was on the desk, and I reported and was on the Sunday desk, and then ended up being on the night desk, so I did all sorts of work.
In two years I did very well on the Caller-Times, and I learned a lot about newspaper production. I was there, I remember, during the [President John F.] Kennedy assassination. It was a thoroughly good experience for me. I had done copy editing in college, I had learned how to do it, but I hadn't done it on a real newspaper. I never wanted to go back to radio and TV. I loved—I could hear the sound of the presses roar, and I was dealing with words again, not sounds, and I was immediately and remarkably at home, and I never had any interest in going back. I had some good bosses and colleagues, and I was accepted.
There was another woman on the desk, and she kind of "mother henned" me a bit. There weren't very many women on the paper outside of the women's page, but there were a few. So it wasn't a total ghetto.
I learned a lot. I loved writing headlines, loved writing headlines, liked working with the back shop. An afternoon paper is just always a rush to put out. There aren't very many of them left in many ways. But everything was fast. You woke up in the morning, you went to work, and you just—WHOA!—you did it. The only thing I hated was I hated getting up in the morning. I'm a night person, and I had to get up at five o'clock in the morning, and I hated that. But I liked Corpus Christi. Corpus Christi was a great town. Between my experience at the newspaper and my TV experience, I learned more in three years than a lot of kids did out of school. I could cover almost anything, and I knew how to produce and put out a paper. So I got an enormous amount of experience, and I had a good time in the sense that I was twenty-one years old, walking into the Corpus Christi police station, when I was in the TV station, up against a veteran reporter for the paper, and, you know, "Hi, my name's Debbie." I looked about twelve. Honest to God, I have a picture of myself in that era, and I had a bow in my hair. I had pulled over my hair like this and put a little bow.
Moorhus: A bow on the side of your curly hair.
Howell: Yes. And white flats, you know. Totally unsophisticated. I mean, I got a good education at the University of Texas, but totally unsophisticated, having to deal with cops who were always trying to trap me into—I mean, if there was a body floating in the ocean, they wanted me to be the one to go see the crabs hanging off the body. You know, real pleasant things like that. Or, "We've got a real ripe one. Get Debbie out here." I remember sitting in the patrol office during a shift change, which meant the patrol office was full of patrolmen, looking through the patrol reports, looking up and saying, "What's a gang bang?" Give me a break. I mean, I didn't know a lot about the seamy side of life, but, boy, did I learn fast, covering cops.
Moorhus: The kind of baiting that they did of you, was it good-natured?
Moorhus: It wasn't mean?
Howell: They were hazing me. I was having to pay my dues.
Moorhus: Was that because you were a woman and young?
Howell: A woman and young, both. They'd have done it to a guy, too. They did it worse because I was a woman, to see if I could take it. Well, they ended up kind of liking me, so they'd save stories for me that the other guy wouldn't get. One time I came in, and these two cops who really liked me—a sixteen-year-old kid had blown his mother away, shot his mother to death, a big shotgun, in her face, because she wanted him to wear a clean shirt to school. I got in, and these two cops put me in the room with the murderer, and he confessed to me. And I'm sitting there, taking down his [confession]. The chief had banned me from seeing this guy or—I can't quite remember the circumstances, but he had said "no reporters." So they slipped me in the back way, the guy confessed to me, and I had it on the noon news, of course before it ever got in the newspaper. I was so proud of myself, and the cops, you know, they were kind of putting one over on the chief, too. The chief got mad and confiscated my camera, so my boss had to go get my camera back for me. [Laughter.] I mean, stuff like that, you know.
Moorhus: Was there any sexual harassment?
Howell: None. There was one patrolman that hit up on me once, but it was just kind of pretty normal. But, no, none.
Moorhus: And you didn't feel threatened?
Howell: No, I really didn't. These guys were great. I liked them. We got along okay. I baked cookies for the dispatchers, and that's the way they'd always remember to call me if something big was happening and I was out of pocket. They'd find me, you know. I listened to the police radio all the time and learned to—I still remember the call letters of the Corpus Christi cops' frequency—KKD 653. [Laughter.] Oh, I got into it. Still to this day, one of the most favorite years of my life was covering cops. I covered cops in the morning, and then in the afternoon I'd either go to the school board, the county board, the city hall, or whatever.
No, I was not sexually harassed. I didn't get sexually harassed until I was up north many years later, by people in my own news room. Straight passes get made at you, but that's the price of being alive. But, oh, the guys would haze me unmercifully, but it wasn't sexual. I mean, I'm the one who said, "What's a gang bang?" They'd just be cops, you know.
Moorhus: And on the newspaper, you didn't feel that you were a victim of sexual harassment from the newspaper staff either?
Howell: No, not then. It happened to me once, but much later in my career when I was in my thirties. But, no, it really didn't happen. Everybody was nice to me in every way. I can remember covering a trial in Judge Jefferson Davis Todd's court, and I had to leave to phone in a story at noon, and it was a complicated trial of some kind. I don't remember what it was. As I was going toward the door, the judge interrupted the court and said, "Debbie, now, you've got all this right? You understand what just happened?" And I said, "Well, I think so." He said, "Well, come up here." I told him what I thought had happened. He said, "Yeah, that's right. That's right." And then he'd go on and hold the court. [Laughter.]
It was a medium-sized town, not a small town. It was a medium-sized town in Texas; everybody knew everybody else, all the cops and courts and city councilmen. People would stop and take time to see that you got what you needed, and most of the time there was a real easy camaraderie between the reporters and who they were covering.
Moorhus: That's wonderful.
Howell: I was called as a witness. There was a sanity hearing for this kid who had murdered his mother. Because he had confessed to me, I was called as a witness in the sanity hearing, and they asked me what I thought his state of mind was when he confessed to me. I said, "Well, I have to tell you, I thought he was crazy as a loon." The defense lawyer, of course, is on his feet, objecting, saying, "Could you tell me what background you have for making any judgment? Are you a psychiatrist?" He kept on and on, attacking my testimony. Judge Todd looked down and he said, "Oh, Bill, will you stop badgering Debbie?" It was this kind of—"Oh, okay," you know.
The people on the paper were always very helpful. I couldn't get up in the morning. The slot man would call me every single morning to get me up, because I hated to get up in the morning. So my Corpus Christi experience was a wonderful one.
Moorhus: What about your personal living situation?
Howell: I had a little bitty one-room apartment right near the TV station, and one night, walking home through the Corpus Christi Cathedral Church yard, some guy out of nowhere came and attacked me and told me he had a knife at my back. He came up behind me and did this. [Demonstrates.] And that he was going to rape me and kill me. I thought, "This is not good." I was fairly near a light at the chancery, and I struggled and saw he had a screwdriver, and I figured, "He can't kill me with a screwdriver," so I just went berserk, kicking, screaming, hollering, hitting, stomping, and two priests heard me and came down, chased him away. I was covering cops them. They took me up. My blouse was torn off. The nice priest gave me his coat.
I called the police department. I'll tell you, every squad in town was looking for this guy, and there were twenty squads in the cathedral. "Who just went after Debbie?" They never found him. He came back and knocked out all the windows in my car and bled all over my car. It was a very frightening episode. So I went and lived with my boss for quite a while, then got a bigger apartment, not so easy to break into as my old one-room apartment was.
I dated guys, all journalists, I think, mostly journalists, and hung out at the newspaper bar, and worked hard.
Moorhus: After you left the TV/radio station and went to the newspaper, did you keep on your living arrangement with your boss?
Howell: No, I had already gotten myself another apartment before I ended my relationship with the TV station. I was dating a Mexican guy at the time, and the guy who owned the TV station, Colonel Kennedy, didn't like the fact I had a Mexican boyfriend either, which in 1962 was not done. My parents didn't like it either. The guy worked at the newspaper, by then was working at the newspaper. He was working in Laredo, and we were kind of commuting back and forth. He went to work at the newspaper. We eventually broke up, but if you were an Anglo, you didn't date Mexican guys; it was considered "not done."
I was still working on the TV station when the attack occurred. The newspaper had never—they wrote an attempted rape story, naming me. Of course, everybody in town was calling me up, saying, "What's—" I remember the mayor calling me, the city council, school superintendent. It was the kind of a town where when anything bad happened to you, you felt like you had friends. It was a terrific experience.
Moorhus: What kinds of things did you learn, and from whom, at the newspaper there?
Howell: At the TV station, I learned a lot about interviewing, and I learned a lot, as a reporter, about the way the world worked, how everything fit in together and how points of view of the police department and the courts might not be the same, just all sorts of "This is the way the world works." Then when I went to work on the paper, I learned, "This is the way papers work." I mean, I knew some of it from working on the college newspaper and this one internship I'd had in college, but I knew it. I understood deadlines and production and how to write a headline, and I knew how to do it fast. And I understood how all the pieces worked together, and I understood how the community piece worked together, the role of the community, the paper and the community. By the time I left, I knew everybody in town. I've stayed loosely in touch with a lot of people down there over the years, and many years later hired somebody off the Corpus Christi paper when I was up in St. Paul.
Moorhus: Why did you leave?
Howell: A guy. I had been going with a copy editor in Corpus Christi, and he left to go to work on the Minneapolis Star. We corresponded, and I decided I had to get out of Texas sometime. Remember there was no good journalism in Texas then. I'm working in probably the best newspaper in Texas. San Antonio papers were shitty; the Houston papers were shitty; the Dallas papers were shitty. There was no good journalism. There's no place to go to learn anything. The papers are crummy! So I knew I had to go up north, so I thought, "Well, why not go to Minneapolis?"
He arranged an interview at the Minneapolis Star for me, and they wanted to put me in the women's pages. I didn't want to work on the women's pages, so they offered me a job and I turned it down. I remember the managing editor, Dan Upham, saying, "But we give in-depth coverage to fashion shows and furniture shows." And I said, "I would much rather cover a murder." Boom! So I didn't take the job, and I just told my boyfriend, "I just can't take a job like that."
So I applied to the St. Paul paper, and they turned me down. I applied to the TV station; they turned me down. Then a suburban job came up on the Minneapolis Star, and they offered that to me, and I took it. I packed all my worldly goods, and my mother, in a U-haul trailer, and drove to Minneapolis.
Moorhus: How long did that job-search process take?
Howell: A few months. I don't remember now. A few months. I kept, and had framed, and it was in my office in the St. Paul paper, the letter turning me down for a job on the St. Paul paper which I later was the editor of.
Moorhus: Did Corpus Christi try to keep you?
Howell: No, they knew I was in love with this guy and I was gone. I was following him. Everybody understood that. There was no point in trying to keep me.
Moorhus: While you were following him, was there ever any question that you would keep your career going?
Howell: No. I was engaged to a guy my senior year in college. I think I mentioned that. I was going to marry him, and then we broke up, but I was going to go out on the West Coast where he was, and I was going to get a job as a reporter. In the back of my mind I always thought, "Well, I'll get married some day," but I never had a strong feeling about having children, although I did want to get married. It was only after I got really intensely serious about my career, that I realized that I couldn't do both, that if I married, it was going to have to be to somebody who didn't want children, or I had to make some accommodation there. The way my life turned out, I mean, it was not an issue, because I ended up marrying a guy who had six kids, and he didn't want any more kids, and I thought, to hell with it. But I always wanted to get married.
Moorhus: I think before we get you out of Texas, we should go back to the reference you made to the Kennedy assassination in Texas,* and that you were at the paper when that had happened. Did you cover that particularly?
* President John F. Kennedy was shot while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas, November 22, 1963.
Howell: No, I was on the copy desk. Al McCullough, who was the slot man, walked out of the wire room with this stricken look on his face, late after we'd gotten in the second run, and he said, "Kennedy has been shot." I'll still remember the dinging. In those days, if there was a bulletin, the machine dinged—ding, ding, ding, ding. An "urgent" was a ding; a bulletin was two dings. Something that's called a flash, there were very few flashes—like the end of World War II, President [Franklin] Roosevelt dying. You didn't see a flash. Well, this was a flash. There was a ding. I mean, the wire machine just went berserk—ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. Al ran in and said, "God, Kennedy may have been shot." The first bulletin simply said shots were fired at the presidential motorcade. That was the first bulletin; I remember that. Then within a very few minutes, we knew, and we switched on a TV set. Even then you switched on a TV set. Then all of a sudden we realized he was dead, and we had a paper to put out. So we decided to put out a running extra. We just kept putting out later editions. We just kept the presses running all afternoon.
What was interesting, people gathered in the newsroom. They didn't know where else to come. So the mayor came and the county board, the county judge came, and everybody was just kind of hanging around and didn't know what else to do. Then everybody went down to the cathedral, because he [Kennedy] was Catholic, and it was a big Catholic town, so everybody kind of went down to the cathedral for a while. Nobody left the paper.
We threw all the ads out of the paper, and it was real extraordinary. Nothing like that has ever happened to me again in newspapering. Publishers don't throw ads out of the paper. The minute the publisher heard about it, he called and said, "Take all the ads out of the paper, out of the A section, so you won't have to worry with the ads." Then we just put out specials, so I just worked about five days solid. It was exciting and sad. I was the junior member on the copy desk, so I didn't get to do much work. I remember saying I wanted a piece of this; I wanted to write headlines and edit copy. Everybody remembers where they were.
Moorhus: Yes, that's true. Everybody remembers. [Pause.] So in 1965, you went to Minneapolis.
Moorhus: You said you were on the suburban desk. Does that mean you were assigned to one suburb or all the suburbs?
Howell: I had about forty of them. I was on the north suburbs. We had an interesting suburban crew; David Beckwith was on the south suburbs, and he was Dan Quayle's press secretary; Kristin McGrath, who owns her own opinion research company in Minneapolis and is very well known in the newspaper business; Sherry Mazingo, who is the associate dean of journalism at USC [University of Southern California]; me and Beverly Keyes, who's the editor of the Fresno Bee in California. We were all working. We worked from four o'clock in the afternoon till one o'clock in the morning, every night Monday through Friday. It was a great crew and we had a great time, and I loved it.
I was stunned by the cold in Minneapolis, however. I'm from south Texas, and I didn't know shit about snow. The city editor got me a pair of jumper cables and a shovel and all the stuff you need in the back of your car if you live in far north Minnesota. I had never been out of Texas, except briefly with my parents on little vacations, and so I had this whole new world.
My relationship with this guy ended almost immediately when I got up there. I was probably three or four months into it. We broke up, so I was stuck up there all by myself, very
lonesome, but I made some friends pretty soon, and stayed for twenty-five years. I covered the suburbs for nine months, and then went to cover education. I covered education for almost four years and loved that, elementary and secondary education, also covered the University of Minnesota some. It was a time of busing and integration and Vietnam [War]. I was the most experienced disturbance reporter on the staff, because I covered education. I learned to like Minneapolis, and the paper was a good one. I worked totally as a reporter.
I had asked to work on the copy desk. I had originally applied to work on the copy desk, and they said, "No, the women's pages." I said no, and they still wouldn't hire me on the copy desk—which is what I'd learned to love—because they didn't hire women on the copy desk. So I went back to reporting. Three years later, they decided to hire women on the copy desk, and decided to give me first crack, and I said, "Screw it. When I wanted to do it, you wouldn't give it to me. Now you want me, and I'm not going to go."
Moorhus: What was the rationale they gave you for not hiring women on the copy desk?
Howell: They didn't; they just said they never had, and they had no plans to. I said, "Why?" They said, "We just don't. It's early morning hours, and you'd have to be out in the dark, in the morning." I said, "I did that in Corpus Christi." And they said, "We don't care. We don't do it." No one ever gave explanations; they just looked at you and said, "We don't do it." And there were no laws that said they couldn't. AP—I mean, I had a string of these. They just looked at me, and I'd say, "Well, shit," you know, and I'd go on and do whatever else there was to do. Filing suit wasn't done.
Moorhus: And there wasn't anybody to complain to.
Howell: No, I'd complain, and they'd say, "Well, that's the way it is."
Moorhus: Take it or leave it, I suppose.
Howell: Right. So I did what I could. I mean, I was not happy, but you accepted it because there wasn't anything—our consciousness had not been raised.
Howell: So I just worked very hard at being a very good reporter and loved it, covering education. It's a great beat. Loved the people. I always liked anything I was covering. I got into it. Whatever it was, I liked it. So I was pretty adaptable. No matter what the story was, I'd go do it. I wasn't a "hard to work with" reporter; I was just pleased to have a job, and even though I might not agree with an editing or stuff here or there, I was responsible and they could count on me.
Moorhus: Were there other women around, working with you?
Moorhus: What about as models, mentors?
Howell: There were none. The woman in Corpus Christi was the only woman that I ever worked for. There was one older woman—I didn't work for her, but there was an older woman reporter on the paper, and a slightly older woman as a copy editor.
Moorhus: This was in Corpus Christi?
Howell: Yes. So they were role models, but there were none in Minneapolis. All the women who might have been mentors were all in the women's pages. So my mentors, most of my career, have been men. I modeled myself after men. I instinctively watched the way they did things, and I did them the way I saw the guys do them.
Moorhus: If there weren't other women around you, then the people you were dealing with as a reporter—
Howell: There were in my peer group. There were some younger women my age, but there were no models.
Moorhus: What about the people that you covered in the education field? Were they used to dealing with women reporters?
Howell: Yes. Education was a traditional place that there were women reporters, so it wasn't weird. Back in Corpus Christi, I actually wasn't the first woman reporter. The first woman reporter had been my boss, who covered cops, so I was the second. She had already paved the way for me there. When I went to the legislature, they had had no women reporters except for a couple from smaller papers, and I found a lot of people who were not used to dealing with women, but it was not that big a deal. I've never been treated any worse as a woman reporter than I saw men treated by cops or whoever was hassling them.
Moorhus: What kind of stories did you cover on the education beat?
Howell: I covered a lot of financial crisis stories; I covered classroom features about new programs; I covered a ton of racial incidents. It was a time of rising racial tension in the schools, and I covered a lot of it. I covered a lot of protests at the university on Vietnam. I got tear gassed. There was a huge demonstration at the University of Minnesota during the Cambodian incursion, and I got beaten into the bushes by the cops. I got a huge rock. I got pelted by a huge rock by one of the demonstrators. I got tear gassed. I mean, it was a hell of a day. They were dropping pepper fog from helicopters on the campus. I would say the two biggest stories were the continuing racial tension in the public schools and the Vietnam issues at the University of Minnesota, and I covered a lot. I was really involved in covering those, but I also did like school millage increases, and covered every school board meeting, and all of that.
Moorhus: The racial issues in Minnesota were black/white, right?
Moorhus: Did you approach that from your experience with the Mexican/Anglo issues in Texas?
Howell: A bit. My little high school had been one of the first high schools integrated. I think I mentioned that. So I had been around black people for much of my life, so I didn't have—well, the first day I was at the Minneapolis Star, the city editor came to me and he said, "Your partner in the suburbs (we were partnered, a day reporter and a night reporter) is black. Is that a problem for you?" I said, "No." I thought, "God, strange they even asked." And that woman actually became a very good friend of mine; she's the one at USC, Sherry Mazingo. The first year I was at the paper, I hung out with Sherry and all her black friends. So that was not an issue for me.
I thought it was interesting. I thought their music and their nightclubs were better than the white ones I went to, so I was easy. That was not a problem at all.
The biggest problem I had was dressing warm enough and figuring out how to drive in the snow. I got buried in a blizzard one time. My car got buried in a blizzard. I had only been there a few months, and I called the city desk and I said, "I can't get in; my car's buried." But I lived near downtown. The city editor said, "Screw that. You get out to the nearest intersection. You hitchhike in. We need you." So I hitchhiked and got a ride on a garbage truck. That was a lot of fun. I mean, you know, "God, a blizzard! Oh, wow! Oooh, look at that!"
I did a lot of general assignment work, too, so I covered meetings and covered city hall. Before I became an editor, there was almost nothing I didn't cover. I never covered sports and business, but from a city desk perspective, there wasn't much I didn't cover—natural disasters, fires, tornadoes, murders. I never did cover a fashion show, though.
Moorhus: In that time you clearly didn't think about going back to Texas. Did you think about going anyplace else up north?
Howell: No, no. No, I had found my home. I loved it. I got really angry at something that happened to me once, and applied again at the St. Paul paper and got a second turndown, but that's the only time I even—I had no interest in leaving.
Moorhus: Were you getting raises the way you wanted them?
Howell: It was union, so I got consistent union raises, and I got active in the union and was union president for a couple of years, was very active in negotiations. Almost led a strike, but we settled in about the last twenty minutes. I was one of the few—I think I might have been the first woman president of the unit at the [Minneapolis] Star and [Minneapolis] Tribune, of the Newspaper Guild. So I learned a lot about unions and management that served me well when I became management.
I liked Minnesota. I might have never left if this job hadn't popped up. I hadn't been unhappy at the paper, but that's getting ahead of the story.
Moorhus: Way down the road.
Howell: It's another twenty years yet.
Moorhus: Twenty years to go. Are there other things that you remember about these first few years in Minneapolis with the Star?
Howell: Oh, there were just some wonderful characters. David Beckwith and I had lunch one day (in D.C.) when he was here, and we were laughing about this one reporter—a guy named Paul Presbrey. He couldn't write, but he was a wonderful reporter. He died when I was city editor at the Star, and he had a story stripped across page one and his obit was on the "Metro" front. Went home, finished his story, died. There were a lot of the old-time newspaper characters; they're gone. Newspapering has been captured by the middle class, and the old "rock 'em, sock 'em" reporters were still around, both in Corpus and in Minneapolis, and they were wonderful, and they taught me stuff.
Newspapering has gotten so sophisticated, and it needed to, but the old days were a lot more fun in many ways. Of course, I couldn't live the way I did then. We'd go down after work and close the bar. God, I could never do that now. You'd have to carry me out. I mean, we were young, and life was exciting. We'd all pile into a car and go to some black after-hours joint after the bars closed, stay up half the night, and come to work on no sleep. [Laughter.] Because it was fun. But most the time I was very responsible. I didn't do anything—I don't think I ever did anything particularly irresponsible, except maybe stay out too late a couple of times and come in hung over when I shouldn't have. But it was just a heady time, and there were a lot of young people at the paper.
Moorhus: Did you talk to your father about your career during this period?
Howell: After I left Texas, I didn't talk to him a lot about it, because he had never left Texas, and his world was Texas, and he didn't understand up north. As I got better and better, he grew less interested, because he couldn't kind of "best" me anymore. So he was proud of me, people tell me, but he didn't like to talk about it a lot, because at some point I passed—what, the highest he had ever made in his life was maybe $12,000 a year, and when I got near it, he never wanted to know what my salary was again, you know. There's some generational jealousy in there. But he was interested, sort of, but, no, he was of no use, or of no help, to me. I mean, he was in the beginning when I was working in Corpus. I would frequently, when he wasn't mad at me about going with the Mexican guy [David Lopez], I would frequently talk to him about stories and the way things worked, but after I came up north, I had gone far away from home, and they kind of didn't understand I had gone so far. That, to them, was strange. So, no. I mean, we got over the estrangement about the Mexican guy when I broke up with the Mexican guy, but I was grown up. I had gone away. My father would—one funny thing, every time there was a big snow, for several years he'd call to see if I was okay. [Laughter.]
Moorhus: My parents call from Michigan to see if we're okay. When the blizzard came this year, they called. Parental concern. [Laughter.]
Howell: Right. But that was sweet, you know.
Moorhus: When did you stop being a reporter, and what did you do next?
Howell: There was an opening on the city desk, and a couple of my reporter friends, including the guy I hired, urged me to apply to be an assistant city editor, and I thought, "Hmm. Well, that's kind of interesting. Well, maybe I'll—"
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Moorhus: You said that you did not get the job because you were a woman.
Howell: Yes, it became clear to me they had never had a woman in management, and I walked in to the managing editor's office and said, "You know, if I don't get this job, I should get another job. I mean, I'm good enough that I could be management. I'm certainly as good as the guy you picked. So I think you ought to consider me. I feel like kind of fucked over."
So the next management job that came by, it wasn't true management, it was supervisory, was starting an action-line column, and I started an action-line column for the Minneapolis Star called Column 1. I had about seven people working for me. I hired two black women. I had an old guy, two black women, and two kind of almost clerical people, reporter types—I mean, very young.
I had this kind of strange amalgam of people. Column 1 was very good, and I started it and kept at it for about three years. It was also the time when I was the union president.
At the end of my time with Column 1, there was a change in management. [Referring to photograph.] This guy over there that I have my arm around [David Nimmer], with fishing clothes on, he became managing editor, and he made me city editor. But I had learned a lot during the three years that I had been supervising people. I never did get on the city desk—I mean then. I had to wait for a change in management before I was given the city editor's job.
But I learned a lot, and because it was an action line and you dealt with problem-solving, you know, I had to deal with everybody. I had to deal with big business, advertisers, and I had to deal with my own newspaper on customer service problems, and I dealt with municipal problems. We worked once more than a year—a deaf kid had been told he couldn't be an Eagle Scout because he was deaf, and he had done all the badge work, but because he was deaf, they wouldn't let him be an Eagle Scout. And I was outraged. We worked a year, pressuring the Boy Scouts of America, bringing every important person we could think of, into getting this kid his Eagle Scout badge, and we finally did, and they reversed their decision. That kind of thing. So I mean, there was lots to learn there. It wasn't just lost mail order stuff.
I learned how, with a small group, to supervise people, and that was an important thing to learn, and I became a leader in the newspaper union, which showed I could lead. So putting those things together, and I was a friend of the new managing editor [Nimmer], so he gave me the job of city editor.
Moorhus: But before you became city editor, the period around the Column 1, you learned management, you were in the union, so you had leadership experience. Were there other kinds of things that you particularly liked? Did you like the investigative work, for example?
Howell: Oh, sort of, but I was never a great investigative reporter.
Moorhus: But not particularly.
Howell: Yes. I liked news. I liked covering a beat. I liked having a territory that I could stake out and get to know intimately and report on.
Moorhus: So you saw this as an opportunity, but a temporary kind of direction for yourself.
Moorhus: The action line.
Howell: Oh, yes. But once I got into people supervision and once I got into leadership, I decided I wanted to climb further and I wanted to be an editor, or at least a city editor.
By that time I had married my first husband, Nicholas Coleman. I became city editor and got married and bought a house all in the same month in 1975. They all kind of came together. I had been covering the legislature. When I covered the legislature, I met the then Senate minority leader [Coleman] and fell in love with him. It was sort of a mini-scandal at the time. He left his wife and six children and ran off with a reporter from the Minneapolis Star. That was me. Because we both knew so many reporters and they liked us, and a lot of people weren't very fond
of his wife, nobody ever wrote—there were a lot of whispers, but no one ever really wrote about it. Eventually he was able to get a divorce, and we got married.
But I covered the session of '71, and after the session—I had fallen in love with him during the session—and I went to my boss and I said, "I've got to stop covering the legislature, because I'll tell you, I'm gone on Nick Coleman, and we're going to start dating. So you've got to take me out of it." So he sent me to the Minneapolis City Hall, and I covered Minneapolis City Hall for a year.
Moorhus: Was this before the action line?
Howell: Then I went to the action line.
Moorhus: So you had fallen in love with Nick Coleman and transferred your beat before you went to the action line.
Howell: Right. You had asked me about being an editor, and I leaped forward, kind of, from school board and University of Minnesota, then I went to the legislature for a year.
Moorhus: So that was '70-'71 season.
Howell: Yes. Actually, '71, because it began in January. In the fall of that year, I asked to be removed.
Moorhus: The fall of '71.
Howell: Yes. I went to city hall. We were married in '75.
Moorhus: Tell me about meeting Nick.
Howell: He was an incredibly charismatic Irish politician, very good, very liberal, a little bit of a rogue, great wit, and I covered him all year long. We kind of circled around each other; we didn't do anything about it. Then when he made his intentions clear to me, I said, "If I'm going to take you up on this, this is going to be a scandal. I've got to get out of my job first, because if I don't, I'll get fired." So I did, because I knew I'd get fired if I started to have an affair with the Senate majority leader. And that was right; I should have gotten fired.
So then he left his wife, then he felt very guilty, and his parents and his kids and everybody leaped all over him, and he went back to his wife for about a month. I was very devastated. Then he came back and stayed. It was a very difficult emotional time on both of us, because the fallout is probably still happening in his own family. He was a very, very well-known, charismatic figure in Minnesota politics in his era, and he became majority leader in '73, and was majority leader until he decided to leave politics in '81, shortly before he died.
Moorhus: When he left his wife, then he applied for the divorce, then you were—
Howell: He couldn't get a divorce. This was in the days before no-fault divorce. She wouldn't give him a divorce, so a special law had to be passed for no-fault divorce to allow him to even file. He had no grounds. This was a long time ago. You had to have grounds to file; he had none. So they had to have what's called no-fault divorce. Most states have no-fault divorce.
It was very difficult, and I wanted to keep my career. Also it taught me a lot, the marriage and the relationship; I got an inside view of what the legislature and political power was like from the inside, as well. It was very difficult, because his parents wouldn't accept it, his kids—I was snubbed a lot.
Moorhus: How old were the children when you first met him?
Howell: The youngest, the one that just called me a while ago, was five, and the oldest was twenty-one. I was persona non grata among the establishment Roman Catholics in St. Paul. I lived in Minneapolis; Nick lived in St. Paul at the time. I didn't meet his parents until six months after we were married; they wanted nothing to do with me, nor most of his children. I was married a long time before I met a lot of his children. So there was a lot of bitterness.
My parents were okay, but when I went home, I just told my mother I had finally fallen in love and I knew this was the guy I was going to marry. They had given up hope on me, because I was in my thirties and had shown no intention of getting married. Mother said, "Oh, tell me all about him." I said, "Well, he's sixteen years older than I am, he's Catholic, he's married, and he's got six kids." And she looked like I hit her across the forehead with a two-by-four. I said, "But we'll work it out." [Laughter.] And we did. But it was not easy.
By the time he died, everything had been healed, except his ex-wife, certainly had no intention, and has no intention, of ever forgiving me, and I can understand that. So we try to stay away from each other at family events.
Moorhus: It seems reasonable.
Howell: We will be pleasant to one another and civil.
Moorhus: When were you actually married?
Howell: June 22, 1975.
Moorhus: What kind of a wedding was it?
Howell: Oh, it was fun. We were next door to the governor's mansion. It was a nice place. One of his sons was married there years later. We got married in the back yard. I wore kind of a—you know what gunne sax are?
Howell: The gunne sax dresses. I wore a gunne sax dress, flowers in my hair, with ribbons. I couldn't figure out why the ribbons that—the florist knew us, and the ribbons he had chosen to run down my back were green and orange and white. The Irish flag.
Moorhus: But you couldn't figure that out?
Howell: I couldn't figure that out that day; I figured it out later. Nick figured it out later. We had all the politicians and journalists of the day there, and we invited everybody, and it was fun.
Moorhus: And did your family come?
Howell: Yes, my family came. His did not. No one from his family came, except his brother and sister came. But his parents nor any of his children nor some of his friends didn't come. But his sister and brother, I became very close to, and both of them ended up divorced, too. So they were there from the family, and that was nice. But it was a big event, and we went off to Nova Scotia and Quebec on our honeymoon. It took four years to get a divorce and get married.
Moorhus: And they really did have to change the laws in the state?
Howell: Yes. He couldn't sponsor himself the no-fault divorce law, for obvious reasons, but it went down the tubes in 1974 or '73, and I can remember sitting up in the wings of the legislature, sobbing, because I knew he was not going to be able to get a divorce for another year, at least, because they had to pass the law again. He kept a shadow address, and we lived together in Minneapolis. He had to have a shadow address in his district, for obvious reasons. So he and his brother roomed together, but most of the time he was with me. Slowly, people got used to the idea, and we got married, and finally even his parents accepted it.
Moorhus: Did it cause you any other problems on the job?
Howell: Yes, it did, after we got married. I had to take myself out of supervising political coverage, and I had a really good assistant city editor who covered everything, and I named him my public affairs editor, and he supervised everything that might have to do with Nick. I tried to stay out of it. Then Nick ran for the U.S. Senate, and the publisher kind of wrote a column about the fact that you could trust the paper's coverage and I was staying out of it, which I did. If I had it to do over again, I think I would have done a few things a little bit differently. I traveled to fundraisers and did some things with Nick I probably would not have done now. I probably would have tried to divorce that piece. There was a little bit of flak, but really not very much, not very much at all. It was never a huge issue. I always thought it was interesting no one ever wrote about it. The only place I know where the city editor of a newspaper was married to the Senate majority leader in Minneapolis, and in St. Paul the city editor was married to the city council president. It was just kind of interesting, but no one ever wrote about it.
We had all sorts of internal problems with it, that we had to work out, I mean, because he would sometimes hate a story one of my reporters did. Maybe where we could begin next time is with how I managed to be both a city editor and a political wife, because that will take—I can't do that in three minutes.
Moorhus: Okay. That's good. That needs good coverage.
Howell: That's pretty interesting.
Moorhus: Good. Okay. So you want to stop now?
Howell: I've got some funny stories. Yes.
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