Magazine article Editor & Publisher

50 Years and Still Writing at Ocala Star-Banner

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

50 Years and Still Writing at Ocala Star-Banner

Article excerpt

After meeting famed columnist O.O. McIntyre and touring the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1923, Frances DeVore announced she was going to become a "newspaperman."

She was 9 years old.

DeVore never swerved from her goal. After graduation from Greenville High School in Michigan in 1932, she became a $5 a week reporter for the town's Daily News.

Now 83, she celebrated her 50th year with the Ocala Star-Banner, a 51,000-circulation New York Co. paper in Florida, last October.

The Sunday feature-section columnist, DeVore works four-hour days, but around Marion County she is recognized as the smiling, red-haired lady who walks with a flamingo-headed cane.

For most of her career, DeVore has battled male prejudice. She had to constantly convince mayors, police chiefs, political hacks, county commissioners and fellow staffers that she could report and write as well as any man.

During three years at Greenville, DeVore produced stories about a black-market baby farm sheltering John Dillinger's girlfriend and a wildcatter hitting an oil well.

Later, with the Evansville Courier in Indiana, she was assigned to do a feature about a woman who walked on the wings of airplanes in a flying circus. After watching the act, DeVore strolled out to the plane to meet Marion Lytle. She turned out to be a he. A month later they were married. That was 1940.

As World War II neared, Lytle signed on as a flight instructor with the sprouting Army Air Corps base in Ocala. Frances devoted full time to raising their children.

At war's end, the wing-walker walked, leaving Frances with three children and 50 [cts.]. Frances started a day care center to support her brood.

On Oct. 4,1947, her 33rd birthday, she was hired by the Star-Banner as a proofreader and in six months moved into the newsroom. Over the years she covered every variety of news.

Eventually named regional editor, DeVore began a search for correspondents. At Crystal River, she visited the town librarian to ask what woman in town read the most books. Thus began the Lucy Morgan Saga. DeVore visited Lucy and asked if she'd like to become a stringer for the Star-Banner. At that time, Morgan was a 25-year-old wife and mother of three.

Now a 30-year veteran at the St. Petersburg Times, Morgan in 1985 won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting.

In an interview she recalled DeVore's in visit. I was surprised and said I'd never en a course in journalism."

That didn't phase DeVore. "Your librarian told me you read a lot. That means you know grammar, punctuation, how a sentence should be structured. I'd want you to cover city commission and school board, check with police and fire departments. You would file your stories by telephone to me each evening."

Morgan, now a Times associate editor and state capital bureau chief in Tallahassee, vividly remembers her start in journalism.

"Frances taught me whatever I needed to get started as a reporter. She was tough and I learned that toughness from her. I watched Frances stand her ground surrounded by men, gruff and difficult to deal with," Morgan recalled.

When DeVore's boss said he wanted her to take over the society page, she agreed on two conditions: Rename it the women's page, and let her take the pictures. The chief agreed.

Until then, DeVore explained, "A local studio had done the photography -- always formal portraits. The owner seemed mainly interested in selling prints to the women. "

"They handed me a 4-by-5 Speed Graphic and said I'd have to load my own film holders. That was fine with me. My goal was to get informal shots. Gradually, I became pretty handy with that great big Graphic."

One of DeVore's most impressive accomplishments came in 1951, when she helped organize the Florida Women's Press Club. This was not to be a social organization, DeVore explains, but one based on professionalism and journalistic skills. …

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