Arnold gave green city hall reporter her baptism by fire

November 07, 2004|ANNABEL GIRARD

When I started as a reporter for the Advocate 24 years ago, my first beat was Danville city hall. Roy Arnold was mayor. What a way to learn about covering city government!

Arnold, who died Monday, gave me the closest thing I ever had to a baptism by fire.

My gut feeling as a reporter is that Roy Arnold had the best interests of the city at heart.

Whether what he had at heart really was in the best interest of the city all the time was an issue this newspaper debated with him long and hard.

Arnold was proud of his longevity, and I'm glad he made it to 94. In his later years when we ran into each other, he would always make a point of mentioning his age.

Going for an interview in his office was something I dreaded. I wasn't concerned about the content of the interview. It was because he chewed tobacco.


I would be asking questions, and in the middle of an answer, he would occasionally open the deep file drawer on the right-hand side of his desk. A Maxwell House coffee can sat at the ready. The mayor would lean over and "ping." His aim was good. I doubt I masked the expression of disgust that appeared on my face.

My other problem with interviewing Arnold was a class in logic he had taken at Centre College. He was a master at arguing, giving his point A and his point B, which could only lead to C, the answer he wanted. It took me a while to learn to tell him I didn't agree with the original points.

Frugality was part of his life, and that carried over to the city. If a vehicle was running, there was no reason to get rid of it. Arnold prided himself on the age of the cars he used for everyday transportation.

A city commission challenging that frugality had the city's stable of vehicles paraded in the city hall parking lot to make a point. While the trucks all managed to make the trip to city hall, they made quite an exhibit. One had a door missing. Another used a bucket turned upside down for the driver's seat.

Arnold was as charming a man as you could meet. His blue eyes could sparkle with laughter. They also could be icy blue if you made him angry. I saw those ice-blue eyes many times.

He also was a storyteller extraordinare. He loved an audience. Occasionally, he would stop by the newspaper to tell a story, talk about the past, complain about past wrongs. He never forgot a wrong. Likewise, he was always secure in the decisions he had supported as mayor.

One story he told remains my favorite. I can't vouch for it being true, but it was in character and one I heard more than once.

His phone rang one night about 2 a.m. A woman resident had called to complain about the pothole in the front of her house.

I can still hear his voice with laughter in it. "I told her I'd take care of it. I had it filled the next day."

He would pause slightly. "Then I called her at 2 a.m. that night to tell her the work had been done."

Only a man believing he was the best mayor he could be would have the confidence to tell that story.

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