By September 8, 2017 Read More →

The passing of the ‘April Fool’

Mountain Messenger

LEWISBURG, W.Va. — David Cottrill wrote news stories and editorials with the Mountain Messenger for several years in the early 2000s.

David Cottrill

He often characterized himself as “the oldest living newspaper reporter.” His op-ed page column, titled “The April Fool,” was named because he was born on April Fool’s Day, a day when many jokes are told, various hoaxes are prepared, and the media sometimes contrives to make incredible “information” more credible. Cottrill’s columns, written during the George W. Bush years in the White House, were anything but jokes and hoaxes, rather, they were more like highly animated opinions representing one side of the political spectrum.

Cottrill left the paper around 2008, and, with his wife, Linda, moved to retire in Charleston. He died on Aug. 23, 2017 at age 86. Those employees still at the Messenger who knew him remember him well with fondness.

Publisher Michael Showell said, “David always tried to see things as they really were. And he was always humble.”

“He never expressed his own opinion by saying ‘I think this or I think that.’ Instead, he quoted other sources – political news sources or, very often, the views of a philosopher of a bygone era, to highlight the point he was trying to make,” said Showell.

“He was a good, kind-hearted, compassionate man,” recalls Kathy Hunter. “He always said the funniest things to make me smile.” She and Jeanette Albaugh both remembered how much he enjoyed singing a capella with the local barbershop quartet. “He had a beautiful voice,” said Hunter.

Singing in a cappella harmony was a lifelong avocation for Cottrill. He was a 45-year member of the international Barbershop Harmony Society, and where ever he and Linda lived, whether in West Virginia, Florida or Maryland, they joined the local branch and sang a cappella in a quartet group.

Cottrill read extensively and his writings reflected his love of little-used words. When sprinkled throughout his columns, this reader had to reach for the dictionary in order to unravel his intent and apply it within the context of the subject matter at hand. “I always thought his take on things were spot on,” said Peggy Mackenzie. “David was gracious and deferential when you met him, and never opinionated in person.”

In the “news room” at the Mountain Messenger, when the newspaper office was located in the basement of the Masonic Temple building, Cottrill’s “office” was in the back corner, behind a wall of books, from which he’d emerge occasionally and head over to the New River Community and Technical College where he taught English classes.

“He was always smiling,” said Julie Sweet. “I remember David coming in lots of mornings from the college and asking me to print homework from various students from either a disc or zip drive. Sometimes their ‘story’ was a sentence, sometimes a few sentences, always short,” said Sweet. “He always gave his kids As. He said he if they could show up for class and turn in something, anything, it was OK. I remembering him saying you can still write a story with a sentence or two. It may be a very short story…but still a story.”

Roger Griffith, dean of the Lewisburg New River campus, also remembers Cottrill’s “wonderful voice.” But it was his considerable “critical thinking skills” as a teacher that Cottrill was most remembered for. Cottrill used his knowledge of history and current events as subject matter, which prompted many student writing assignments. “He wanted students to know the classics and the current world we live in,” Griffith said. Although the classroom was considered neutral ground on politics, Cottrill wanted the students’ “eyes open to the world.”

Cottrill’s obituary is in this week’s Mountain Messenger where the reader may learn more of the life of David Cottrill. For those of us who knew him and miss him, that brief account doesn’t begin to describe the breadth and reach of his life.

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