The Beacon has been blessed with an amazing group of dedicated, talented employees throughout our 34 years in business. Typically, every fall I devote a column to thanking our staff and our freelance writers.
I will do so again later this year. But today, I want to write in appreciation of an employee who retired from the Beacon many years ago.
I am sorry to report the recent passing of our very first salesperson, Joanne Petras, of Arlington, Virginia, at the age of 96.
Way back in December 1989, in only the second month of the Beacon’s existence, we published an article titled “Uncle Sam taps retirees for census jobs.”
A few days after that issue came off the press, I received a phone call at the Beacon “office” (the second bedroom of our apartment at the time) from Ms. Petras.
She started by saying how much she liked our new paper, but then went on to ask how readers are supposed to apply for the jobs mentioned in the article given that no contact information was provided?
I thanked her for opening my eyes as a new publisher to a very important lesson. We needed to see our articles through the eyes of our readers, anticipate their questions, and provide answers.
I said I would try to find the information for her, but then I asked her to tell me more about herself.
She had just retired from a 40+ year career at the Pentagon as an administrative assistant to high-ranking military staff. She was bored as a retiree and was looking for something to do to bring in spending money.
I noticed her friendly manner and how articulate she was, so I asked if she had ever considered becoming a sales rep for a newspaper? I had been looking to fill that position for weeks, without success. Perhaps the right person had now come along?
We agreed to meet, hit it off over coffee, and from that day on, she became the biggest booster the Beacon newspaper ever had — not only with potential advertisers, but with her friends, members of her church, and anyone and everyone she met.
The Beacon seemed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread to Joanne, and that feeling apparently continued to her last days.
As you can see in our letters to the editor below, one of her last acts was to send a gift subscription to the Beacon to an acquaintance she had met at the Pentagon decades before and had not spoken with until he tracked her down out of the blue last year.
During Joanne’s 16 years selling ads for the Beacon (and not just as “a” salesperson, but as our top salesperson for most of those years), she was also what you might have called our “in-house senior.”
She was definitely in our reader demographic, while I was still in my 30s, and so she would advise us, lovingly, whenever we took a wrong step with an article or an event.
She was also our eyes and ears all over Northern Virginia, regularly recommending new places where we should distribute our free publication, and making it a personal challenge to keep stacks of Beacons looking neat and orderly wherever she might find them.
Speaking of which, she was a huge help as we developed our annual Expo events. She brought us many volunteers, and while they staffed the registration table, she went from booth to booth, making sure our exhibitors had everything they needed (and that they filled out the evaluation form before they left).
In short, the Beacon probably wouldn’t be here today — and my wife, Judy, our president, agrees with me on this — had Joanne not helped us get a sound footing and strong advertiser base in those early years.
I would be remiss if I didn’t note a few more salient facts about Joanne. She loved to water ski every summer and did so until at least the age of 90. She loved to gamble and to see the shows in Atlantic City a few times a year, often driving her friends there and back.
In fact, she continued to keep her cars (yes, two of them) in good working order, driving them around the block every other day or so until shortly before she passed.
Joanne was a very private person. She never married. She had no close relatives. And she gave instructions upon her death that her body was to be donated to science and there was to be no memorial service.
I note that she didn’t say there was to be no appreciation in print, and I have taken that as her reluctant acquiescence that she might find herself written about on these pages.
Joanne, you were a very special person to me, to Judy, and to the whole Beacon operation. Even though you retired many years ago, we will miss you at our Expo this year, and I will miss our conversations and annual exchange of birthday cards.
Till we meet again…